Sunday, November 23, 2008

Domestic Violence at Home and Abroad

Two excerpts of articles from today's New York Times:

Nicholas Kristof on Pakistan:

One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.

November 23, 2008
New York Times
Despite Army’s Assurances, Violence at Home

On Christmas Day two years ago, Sgt. Carlos Renteria, recently back from his first tour in Iraq, got drunk and, during an argument, began to choke his wife, Adriana. He body-slammed her. He threw her onto the couch, grabbed a cushion and smothered her, again and again — until, finally, he stopped, she told the police in San Angelo, Tex.

He was arrested and charged with assault, and she went to the hospital for her injuries, which included bruises and a severely swollen knee. It was his second domestic violence arrest. Assured by an Army officer that the military would pursue the case, the Texas prosecutor bowed out.

Yet Sergeant Renteria has faced no consequences. Instead, since his arrest, he has been redeployed to Iraq and promoted to staff sergeant.

“I was told it would be taken care of, in more than one instance, by the Army,” said Ms. Renteria, 30, referring to the assault charges. “That they would help me. And I believed them.”

Ms. Renteria’s story illustrates the serious gaps in the way the Army handles domestic violence cases and the way it treats victims, despite promises to take such crimes more seriously.

More than five years ago, after a series of wife-killings by soldiers, a Pentagon task force investigation concluded that the military was doing a better job of shielding service members from punishment than protecting their wives from harm. The Department of Defense began to make noticeable improvements, including expanding protections and services for victims. But problems clearly remain.

The Army’s handling of such cases is especially important in a time of war, when the number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder escalates. Studies show a link between the disorder and increased violence in the home.

The Army says that the measures it has taken have been effective in curbing domestic violence. But advocates of victims of domestic violence say that among combat troops the violence has spiked in the past two years and that women are often disinclined to report violence for fear of angering their partners and hurting their careers.

These advocates point to the gruesome murders of three female soldiers based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina within the last four months. One woman’s body was dismembered and dumped in the woods. Another woman, seven months pregnant, was found dead in a motel bathtub. The third was stabbed to death.

In each case, the victim’s boyfriend or husband, a soldier or marine, has been charged in the killing. All three suspects were deployed in Iraq at some point.

The recent killings, which echo a series of wife-killings by soldiers at the fort in 2002, have captured the attention of the Pentagon again. During a visit last month to Fort Bragg, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he was “very concerned” about the stress on combat troops. “We obviously want to stop all kinds of violence among our soldiers and families,” he said.

Yet an examination of Ms. Renteria’s case shows she had sought help from an array of people for behavior by her husband that the Army could trace to 2004.

“She has really tried to pursue this to make sure he gets the appropriate intervention,” said Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and a member of the Pentagon’s task force on domestic violence, who was told about the case by The Times. “We had hoped with the military’s new awareness of the issues of domestic violence in the military, and with its new policies and procedures around addressing it, that this kind of thing wouldn’t be happening still.”

Sergeant Renteria was ordered to take anger management classes on base. He attended one class. “ ‘I can’t be touched, can’t you see?’ ” Ms. Renteria said her husband told her. “ ‘They aren’t going to do anything to me.’ ”

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