Joan Smith: The soldiers who can't help bringing their work home

Related Topics

The American army has various names for it: it's called "spousal aggression" or "intimate partner violence". These are posh terms for wife-beating, and it's a huge problem in the US military. In the year 2000, after three soldiers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky were charged with murdering their wives or girlfriends, Congress set up a task force to investigate domestic violence on military bases and make recommendations. One of the first places it visited was Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which became notorious only two years later when four army wives were killed by their husbands or ex-husbands in a six-week period; three of the cases involved Special Operations soldiers who had been in Afghanistan, and two of the perpetrators killed themselves as well. In all, there were 832 victims of domestic violence at the base between 2002 and 2004, according to the army's own figures.

In this country, the problem of domestic violence in the military has rarely surfaced in the media, but a new report from the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) suggests that it needs to be addressed urgently. The study looked at the proportion of veterans in the prison population in England and Wales and found that it has more than doubled in six years; about 8,500 are in jail and another 12,000 are on probation or on parole. In 90 cases where veterans were given a community sentence, half were "chronic" misusers of alcohol and drugs, and almost half were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And the most common conviction among this group of men was for domestic violence. In 10 other cases, the main offence was against a child.

Previously unpublished figures in the IoS last month showed high levels of PTSD among veterans of the Afghanistan conflict. There is nothing surprising about this or about the link with domestic violence; soldiers who have lived for months under combat stress, never knowing when they might be blown up by a roadside bomb, perhaps witnessing close friends with limbs blown off, find it hard to adapt to civilian life. Their families want to do everyday things, while they are troubled by flashbacks to scenes of carnage. Earlier conflicts have confirmed a tendency among a significant minority of veterans to take out their frustrations on close family members; a friend of mine was one of the founders of Medica, an organisation set up to counsel women raped in the Bosnian war, and she observed a huge upsurge in domestic violence when the conflict was over.

In the US, the problem predates the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that aspects of military life – the harshness of military regimes and the inevitable focus on violence as a solution – encourage attitudes which make some men more likely to use their fists at home. The task force on domestic violence reported in 2003 and since then American servicemen (or women) accused of domestic violence have been ordered into anger-management classes or couple-counselling. Two years later, though, Boston University School of Medicine described "intimate partner violence" in the US military as a "serious public health problem". Last year, three women soldiers were murdered in six months at Fort Bragg, allegedly bypartners who had served in Iraq.

This is a long-running scandal. Families of British soldiers in Afghanistan naturally feel immense relief when they return home uninjured, but some of them will have to cope with grave psychological damage inflicted by the conflict. It appears to be a burden which they are expected to bear alone.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine