Domestic Abuse: DOD Needs to Enhance Its Prevention, Response, and Oversight

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.

We testified that DOD and the services have taken steps to prevent and respond to domestic abuse. But we found gaps in key areas such as data collection and reporting, as well as implementation and oversight of response activities, e.g., actions taken to hold abusers accountable.

In prior work, we made 32 recommendations to DOD and the military services to improve their domestic abuse prevention and response, as well as their oversight of these activities.

Purple ribbons raise awareness about domestic abuse.


What GAO Found

In its May 2021 report, GAO found that 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, 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.

DOD and the military services have taken steps to implement and oversee domestic abuse prevention and response activities, but gaps exist in key areas, including creating awareness of domestic abuse reporting options and resources, allegation screening, and victim risk assessment. For example, while DOD and the military services have taken steps to promote awareness of reporting options and resources, DOD has not fully addressed challenges in doing so, and may miss opportunities to provide available resources to victims. In addition, 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. DOD and the military services have developed risk assessment tools in accordance with DOD policy, but the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps have not ensured their consistent implementation across installations, and may therefore be limited in their ability to identify and convey the need for any critical safety measures for victims of domestic abuse.

Finally, GAO found that the military services perform limited oversight of commanders’ disposition of domestic violence incidents, referred to as command actions. These command actions can have significant implications, including for victims’ eligibility for transitional compensation and Lautenberg Amendment restrictions to firearm possession for alleged abusers. DOD has not assessed the potential risks associated with its current disposition model for domestic violence incidents and the feasibility of potential alternatives that may respond to such risks. Performing such an assessment could provide the department and military services with a better understanding of such risks and their resulting potential impacts.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO’s May 2021 report, entitled Domestic Abuse: Actions Needed to Enhance DOD’s Prevention, Response, and Oversight (GAO-21-289). Specifically, this testimony discusses the extent to which 1) DOD has met statutory requirements to collect and report complete data on reports of domestic abuse and 2) DOD and the military services have implemented and overseen domestic abuse prevention and response activities, including commanders’ disposition of incidents, in accordance with DOD policy.

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