News: The military has a domestic violence problem.
By Karen Houppert
July/August 2005 Issue
AT NORTH CAROLINA'S Fort Bragg this February, Army Special Forces trainee Richard Corcoran got mad at his estranged wife, Michele. He'd gotten mad before, but this would mark the sixth and final time the Cumberland County Sheriffs Department would be called to break up a "domestic disturbance" between Corcoran and his wife. At 8:30 p.m. Corcoran arrived at his wife's house and went after 30-year-old Michele with a gun, firing at her as she fled to a neighbor's. (She was wounded but survived.) He shot and wounded another Fort Bragg soldier who was in the house and then shot and killed himself—all while his seven-month-old daughter lay in another room.
He joins a band of brothers. Corcoran's is the 10th fatality in a slew of domestic violence homicides involving Fort Bragg soldiers since 2002; in one six-week spree four Army wives were murdered by their husbands or ex-husbands. Including nonfatal incidents, there were 832 victims of domestic violence between 2002 and 2004 at Fort Bragg alone, according to Army figures.
And yet Corcoran's attack stands out. Not only had he just attended a mandated anger-management class on-post that same afternoon—calling into question the efficacy of these sessions that the Army considers the cornerstone of its domestic violence treatment program—but Corcoran had a past that should have kept him out of the Army in the first place: He had been indicted for rape at the age of 19.
On March 1, 1989, in the town of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Corcoran and six other high school athletes sexually assaulted a retarded girl with sticks and a baseball bat. Corcoran, like all the boys, admitted being present but insisted he just watched. Four of the boys were tried and convicted in a grueling five-month trial. Three days before Corcoran's trial was slated to begin in 1994, the victim's parents decided it was not in their daughter's best interest to pursue another trial. The case against Corcoran, son of a Glen Ridge police lieutenant, was dropped.
Several years later, Richard Corcoran joined the Army.
THE MILITARY HAS A DOMESTIC violence problem—or, as the Army calls it, a "spousal aggression issue." Sometimes, when soldiers have just returned from a war zone—like Corcoran, who had spent eight months in Afghan- istan—the media speculates that post-traumatic stress may be to blame. This seems somewhat specious. The Defense Department doesn't break down pre- and post-deployment figures, but the fact is that rates of domestic violence in the military have been high for years—two to five times higher than among civilians, depending on which study is consulted.
In the 1990s, the military quietly watched as its domestic violence rates shot up from 19 per 1,000 soldiers in 1990 to 26 per 1,000 soldiers in 1996. After three soldiers stationed at Kentucky's Fort Campbell were charged with killing their wives or girlfriends, an alarmed Congress appointed a task force to investigate and make recommendations. Last year, according to DoD figures, there were 16,400 cases of domestic violence reported, with 9,450 of them substantiated. That's still a rate of 14 cases for every 1,000 couples, compared with 3 per 1,000 among civilians. And consider that many soldiers spent all or part of last year deployed and thus physically separated from their spouses.
The military admits it has a problem but points out that its population is disproportionately young and poor—and, statistically, domestic violence is higher among such civilians, too. (Whether that's because the young and poor—more likely to come into contact with the system via shelters, social services, and the courts—are just overcounted is hotly contested among experts.)
Meanwhile, domestic violence advocates assert that the military's numbers are even higher than the DoD says. If military spouses live off-post—as 60 percent do—and call the local cops or shelter for help, they might not show up in the military's statistics. Further, the military defines domestic violence narrowly: It has only counted incidents against a current, legal spouse—and half the 1.5 million enlisted soldiers are unmarried, divorced, living with girlfriends, dating, or busy "not asking or telling."
Twenty years ago when the military did its domestic violence training, it was not unusual to call it a "relationship issue" and hand it over to therapists to sort out. Even today, batterers in the military are typically ordered into anger-management classes and couples counseling—both considered largely ineffective by most civilian experts.
"These anger-treatment models are not very successful because this is not an illness, it's an attitude. It's about people feeling like they're entitled to do this to their wives," says attorney Juley Fulcher, who worked on the issue for years at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "The day you start seeing these guys go after their commanding officer because they're pissed off and they can't control their anger, we'll rethink our theory," she adds.
According to Deborah Tucker, who heads the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Austin, Texas, and cochaired the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence, the military is making progress on the issue. In 2003, it agreed to adopt 194 of the task force's 200 recommendations to improve services for victims and beef up offender accountability. Still, two years later many have yet to be implemented and that troubles her, though she adds that "some argue that what's been done already is much faster than usual [for the military]."
Meanwhile, the military faces new scandals over sexual harassment in its ranks, rape at the Air Force Academy, and reports on the high numbers of sexual assaults against its female soldiers. These are behaviors that exist on a continuum with domestic violence, explains Tucker. "To eradicate domestic violence in the military—and the United States of America—will take a cultural shift that condemns violence as criminal behavior and does not excuse it because of the comportment of the victim, the alcohol or drug abuse of the offender, the stress the offender is under, or even how sorry the offender is afterwards," says Tucker. She insists that military brass must lead the charge if change is to trickle down from the base commanders to the recruiters trawling the local mall.
FOR EVIDENCE that this has yet to happen, one need only consider Richard Corcoran's career trajectory. Army recruiters might have suggested that even if the teenage Corcoran had just watched the assault in the basement on that winter day in Glen Ridge—as so many soldiers at Abu Ghraib apparently also just "watched"—the fact that he did nothing to stop it is not in keeping with core Army values of honor and integrity. Call it a tip-off that this prospective soldier lacked respect for women—and perhaps the law.
But maybe the Army didn't know about the rape?
"Sure they knew," says Essex County prosecutor Robert Laurino, who tried the first Glen Ridge case. One recruiter even came to meet with Laurino. "Are you aware of this fellow and what his background is?" Laurino recalls asking, shocked that the Army was recruiting Corcoran.
"Yes," the recruiter told Laurino. "That's just the kind of guy we want to turn into a man."
Published on Tuesday, June 11, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Army Relaxes Its Standards to Fill Ranks
Critics say push to meet quotas may let unstable recruits join up
by Anna Badkhen
Pentagon officials announced Monday that the Army has managed to achieve its latest recruiting goals, while admitting that they have lowered some standards that had been set to ensure the quality of the force.
But as the military continues investigations into alleged atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Iraq, some experts worry that the Army, stretched thin by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and under pressure to fill its ranks, might be signing up soldiers who should not be in the service.
Signing Them Up
The Army is on track to exceed its recruiting target for this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
June goal: 8,600
June total: 8,756
2006 goal: 80,000
2006 so far: 51,612
The military's revelation last week that former Pfc. Steven Green, who allegedly organized the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family, suffered from "anti-social personality disorder" sheds new light on the importance of how the Army decides whom to sign up for service, say military analysts.
"The issue is not whether they've met their quota," said Winslow Wheeler, an expert on the U.S. military at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "The issue is quality ... and what concessions they are willing to make to meet this quota."
Coincidentally, the Pentagon's announcement on recruiting came on the same day the military identified several soldiers it accuses of participating in the rape and murders with Green.
Green faces murder and kidnapping charges in the case. Four others, identified as Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, face similar charges, while Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe is charged with dereliction of duty for failing to prevent or report the attack.
Army recruiters found 8,756 new recruits for active-duty service last month, surpassing their stated target of 8,600 -- marking the 13th consecutive month the service met or exceeded its target. The active Army now has 51,612 new recruits, and it hopes to sign up a total of 80,000 new recruits by the end of the 2006 budget year on Sept. 30.
The Navy in June met its goal of 3,961 recruits for that month. The Marine Corps and the Air Force exceeded their recruiting objectives, signing up 4,357 and 2,564 service members, respectively. The Reserve and National Guard components of the services met or surpassed their recruiting goals last month, except for the Navy Reserve, which recruited 95 percent of its target.
To allow more recruits to join, the Army last fall amended its rule that it can sign up no more than 2 percent of recruits who score between 15 and 30 out of 99 on the Army's aptitude test. Now, up to 4 percent of Army recruits can score under 30 on the aptitude test, which measures such things as the applicants' knowledge of mathematics and command of the English language, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.
He said the Army will have "less than 4 percent" of recruits who scored under 30 by the end of the year, but did not elaborate. In 2005, 1.8 percent of the soldiers the Army signed up scored between 15 and 30 percent.
"We're being held up to an impossibly high standard," Hilferty said.
At the same time, in the first four months of this year, the percentage of recruits whom the Army otherwise considers fit for service but who required special waivers to join rose to 15.5 percent. The waivers were for misdemeanor offenses, drug- or alcohol-related violations or medical problems, Hilferty said. In 2004, 12 percent of recruits required such waivers; in 2005, 15 percent needed them.
Hilferty said Army recruiters have "an aggressive mental health program" consisting of tests and checkups intended to weed out applicants with mental health problems or personality disorders -- which Green is reported to have -- during either recruiting or at basic training.
But not all behavioral problems can be spotted during these tests, experts warn -- and some may only emerge under the extreme stress of war.
"It's actually very easy for people like Steven Green to get into the military, because he is a reasonably intelligent, physically fit young man whose emotions are not close to the surface," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.
"Many of the qualities that would make you a problem in the civilian society are welcomed in the military. For example, a highly aggressive young man is precisely what the Marines are looking for ... particularly in the enlisted ranks," Thompson said.
Some experts said that regardless of how strict the criteria are during recruiting, it is impossible to completely prevent people with personality disorders from getting into the military.
"You're talking about weeding out 1 in half a million. That's very difficult," said Thomas Mahnken, an expert on the military at Johns Hopkins University.
Last year, the Army discharged 1,038 soldiers because of various personality disorders, Hilferty said. But it is unclear how many of these soldiers had developed the disorders before they signed up for military service, and whether they could have been prevented from joining the Army at the recruiting stage, he said.
Still, some critics say recruiters, pressed to fill the ranks amid wartime shortfalls, may ignore signs that a few of their recruits fail to measure up to military requirements.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors racist and right-wing militia groups, reported this month that thousands of white supremacists may have infiltrated the military, taking advantage of loosened recruiting standards.
"Over the last several years, there has been a lot of pressure, and ... some of the recruiters have turned a blind eye," said Mark Potok, who works at the center. The Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups in 1996.
The Army has not responded to the center's report.
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle