Fast Facts

The Department of Defense recorded over 40,000 domestic abuse incidents involving military servicemembers, spouses, or intimate partners from FY 2015-19. Of these, 74% were physical abuse.

DOD and the services have taken steps to prevent and respond to domestic abuse. However, we identified gaps in key areas, including data collection and reporting, implementation and oversight of response activities, and training for key personnel.

We are making 32 recommendations to DOD and the military services to improve their domestic abuse prevention and response, as well as their oversight of these activities.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) met a statutory requirement to collect and report data for incidents that it determined met its criteria for domestic abuse. In fiscal years 2015-2019, DOD determined that over 40,000 domestic abuse incidents met its criteria (see figure), of which 74 percent were physical abuse. However, DOD has not collected and reported accurate data for all domestic abuse allegations received, including those that did not meet DOD's criteria, as statutorily required. Thus, DOD is unable to assess the scope of alleged abuse and its rate of substantiation. In addition, despite a statutory requirement since 1999, DOD has not collected comprehensive data on the number of allegations of domestic violence—a subcategory of different types of domestic abuse that constitute offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice—and related actions taken by commanders. Improving collection of these data could enhance DOD's visibility over actions taken by commanders to address domestic violence.

Incidents That Met DOD Criteria for Domestic Abuse (Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse, or Neglect), Fiscal Years 2015-2019

Incidents That Met DOD Criteria for Domestic Abuse (Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse, or Neglect), Fiscal Years 2015-2019

DOD and the military services have taken steps to implement and oversee domestic abuse prevention and response activities, but gaps exist in key areas. For example, the military services perform limited monitoring of installation incident-screening decisions and therefore lack reasonable assurance that all domestic abuse allegations are screened in accordance with DOD policy. In addition, while DOD and the military services have taken steps to promote awareness of reporting options and resources, DOD has not fully addressed challenges in reaching its audience, or developed metrics to assess the effectiveness of its awareness efforts. As a result, DOD and the military services may miss opportunities to provide available resources to victims.

The military services have developed domestic abuse prevention and response training for key personnel that meets some DOD requirements. For example, installation Family Advocacy Programs provide such training to commanders and senior enlisted advisors, but the training GAO assessed from a nongeneralizable sample of 20 installations did not consistently cover all DOD-required topics, and the services have not provided guidance to ensure that training addresses these requirements. As a result, commanders and senior enlisted advisors may not be aware of key responsibilities for domestic abuse prevention and response.

Why GAO Did This Study

Domestic abuse can result in devastating personal consequences and societal costs, and according to DOD, is incompatible with military values and reduces mission readiness. In fiscal year 2019, the military services recorded 8,055 incidents that met DOD's criteria for domestic abuse.

House Reports 116-120 and 116-333 included provisions for GAO to review the military services' efforts to prevent and respond to domestic abuse, including domestic violence. This report examines, among other objectives, the extent to which (1) DOD has met statutory requirements to collect and report complete data on reports of domestic abuse, and describes how many incidents were recorded by DOD in fiscal years 2015-2019; (2) DOD and the military services have implemented and overseen domestic abuse prevention and response activities in accordance with DOD policy; and (3) the military services have developed domestic abuse training for key personnel that meets DOD requirements. GAO analyzed program data, policies, and guidance; assessed documents from a nongeneralizable sample of 20 military installations; and interviewed 68 domestic abuse survivors as well as DOD, service, and civilian officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 32 recommendations, including that DOD improve its data collection and awareness efforts and that the military services improve monitoring of incident screening and provide guidance for training of key personnel. DOD concurred and described actions planned or underway, as discussed in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness clarifies guidance for submitting data on the number and types of domestic abuse allegations. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness develops a quality control process for reporting accurate and complete data on allegations of abuse, including those that were determined to not meet DOD's criteria for domestic abuse. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness expands the scope of its planned future reporting of domestic abuse data annually to the Congress to include analysis of the types of allegations of abuse. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should evaluate and, if needed, clarify or adjust responsibilities for tracking domestic violence and related command action data, including how any necessary coordination among responsible offices should occur. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure the cognizant offices revise or issue regulations to clarify that violation of civilian protective orders is punishable under the UCMJ as required by DOD policy. (Recommendation 5)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure the cognizant offices revise or issue regulations to clarify that violation of civilian protective orders is punishable under the UCMJ as required by DOD policy. (Recommendation 6)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure the cognizant offices revise or issue regulations to clarify that violation of civilian protective orders is punishable under the UCMJ as required by DOD policy. (Recommendation 7)
Open
The Air Force concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Air Force has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should develop a process, such as through certification reviews, to ensure installation FAPs attempt to enter into memoranda of understanding with civilian organizations, as appropriate. (Recommendation 8)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should develop a process, such as through certification reviews, to ensure installation FAPs attempt to enter into memoranda of understanding with civilian organizations, as appropriate. (Recommendation 9)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps develops a process, such as through certification reviews, to ensure installation FAPs attempt to enter into memoranda of understanding with civilian organizations, as appropriate. (Recommendation 10)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should develop a process, such as through certification reviews, to ensure installation FAPs attempt to enter into memoranda of understanding with civilian organizations, as appropriate. (Recommendation 11)
Open
The Air Force concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Air Force has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness updates its Family Advocacy Program manual to (1) add and fully define reasonable suspicion as the standard for determining whether an allegation meets the initial threshold to be referred to the IDC, and (2) establish standardized criteria for determining whether reported allegations of abuse meet that threshold. (Recommendation 12)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should develop a risk-based process to consistently monitor how allegations of domestic abuse are screened at installations to help ensure that all domestic abuse allegations that should be presented to an Incident Determination Committee are consistently presented. (Recommendation 13)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should develop a risk-based process to consistently monitor how allegations of domestic abuse are screened at installations to help ensure that all domestic abuse allegations that should be presented to an Incident Determination Committee are consistently presented. (Recommendation 14)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps develops a risk-based process to consistently monitor how allegations of domestic abuse are screened at installations to help ensure that all domestic abuse allegations that should be presented to an Incident Determination Committee are consistently presented. (Recommendation 15)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should develop a risk-based process to consistently monitor how allegations of domestic abuse are screened at installations to help ensure that all domestic abuse allegations that should be presented to an Incident Determination Committee are consistently presented. (Recommendation 16)
Open
The Air Force concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Air Force has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should issue guidance, such as through updating its service FAP policy, to specify the risk assessment tools required to be used and the type of personnel responsible for implementing each tool. (Recommendation 17)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should issue guidance, such as through updating its service FAP policy, to specify the risk assessment tools required to be used and the type of personnel responsible for implementing each tool. (Recommendation 18)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps issues guidance, such as through updating its service FAP policy, to specify the risk assessment tools required to be used and the type of personnel responsible for implementing each tool. (Recommendation 19)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness develops the planned communications strategy or takes other action to support the services in increasing awareness of domestic abuse reporting options and resources. (Recommendation 20)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness develops metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of DOD and military service domestic abuse awareness campaigns, including by identifying a target audience and defining measurable objectives. (Recommendation 21)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should update its schedule and milestones and identify and assign resources needed for implementation of the IDC Army-wide. (Recommendation 22)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness updates its FAP oversight framework to include oversight of IDC proceedings. (Recommendation 23)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should establish a formal process to monitor IDCs to ensure they are conducted in accordance with DOD and service policy. (Recommendation 24)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should establish a formal process to monitor IDCs to ensure they are conducted in accordance with DOD and service policy. (Recommendation 25)
Open
The Air Force concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Air Force has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should assess the risks associated with its current disposition model and the feasibility, advantages, and disadvantages of alternate disposition models for domestic violence. This could include elevating the disposition authority, requiring additional review of these dispositions, or other methods as appropriate. (Recommendation 26)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should provide additional guidance or sample training materials for installation-level commander and senior enlisted advisor domestic abuse training that meets all DOD requirements. (Recommendation 27)
Open
The Army concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Army has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should provide additional guidance or sample training materials for installation-level commander and senior enlisted advisor domestic abuse training that meets all DOD requirements. (Recommendation 28)
Closed - Implemented
The Navy concurred with this recommendation, and in January 2021 issued a new Family Advocacy Program Training Curriculum for stakeholders of the installation coordinated community response - including commanders and senior enlisted advisors. This curriculum, which included a set of six PowerPoint slides and a facilitation guide for Family Advocacy Program personnel to support installation-level training, was provided to installations as sample training materials. The training materials address all DOD requirements for domestic abuse training, including resources available on and the off the installation, protective factors, and procedures when domestic abuse occurs before deployment. By taking these actions, the Navy will help ensure that commanders and senior enlisted advisors are provided with consistent training that addresses all DOD required topics, and thereby help improve awareness of their roles and responsibilities in preventing and responding to domestic abuse incidents.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps provides additional guidance or sample training materials for installation-level commander and senior enlisted advisor domestic abuse training that meets all DOD requirements. (Recommendation 29)
Open
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Navy has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should provide additional guidance or sample training materials for installation-level commander and senior enlisted advisor domestic abuse training that meets all DOD requirements. (Recommendation 30)
Open
The Air Force concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the Air Force has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Secretaries of the military departments, develops a process to ensure the quality and completeness of commander and senior enlisted advisor domestic abuse training completion data. (Recommendation 31)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness specifies learning objectives or content requirements for chaplain training on domestic abuse by updating DOD Instruction 6400.06 or through other methods. (Recommendation 32)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the department has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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