Last week Stacy Bannerman, well-known advocate for military families, published an article titled, “Husbands Who Bring the War Home:” Author of When the War Came Home, Bannerman has been credited with helping to secure passage of the Military Family Leave Act in 2009.
As weary American troops return from their Iraqi deployment, the Bannerman column is important and timely. And the harrowing account of Kristi, victim of an attempted strangulation by a husband who had just returned from a 10-month deployment, was riveting.
But was it true?
As a columnist who specializes in the field of domestic violence and who has spoken with countless victims of abuse, I found myself feeling increasingly unsettled as I worked my way through her engaging yet enigmatic essay.
The question of the veracity of her claims is paramount because the partner abuse field is strewn with the battlefield debris of half-truths, misrepresentations, and utter fabrications. University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus has written of domestic violence researchers who “have let their ideological commitments overrule their scientific commitments.” And University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work Dean Richard Gelles has coined the whimsical phrase about the ubiquitous partner abuse “factoids from nowhere.”
So I sent Ms. Bannerman an email requesting documentation of her various statements and claims.
She cheerfully answered a couple of my questions. But when pressed for citations of the research studies, Bannerman firmly demurred: “I am sorry that my travel schedule doesn’t allow me to provide any further assistance.”
Knowing that her article had garnered extensive media attention and could well shape future legislation, that brush-off hardly seemed to fit the ticket. So I did some digging. And to my dismay, I learned that “Husbands Who Bring the War Home” likely contains more fiction than fact.
Let’s put the issue into perspective. Partner abuse is a problem in our society. But research paints a very different picture than the Dagwood and Blondie comic strip stereotypes.
The largest study on partner violence in military families was conducted by Richard Heyman of the State University of New York-Stony Brook. His survey of over 33,000 active-duty Army personnel found 4.4% of female soldiers had committed severe domestic violence in the past year, compared to only 2.5% of the men. Other studies with military personnel reach a similar conclusion: Women are as likely, if not more likely, than men to engage in partner aggression.
So let’s dissect the eight key claims in Bannerman’s 1,400-word article. I’ll first quote her statement, then tell you what my investigation turned up.
1. “The journal Disabled American Veterans stated that veteran interpersonal violence often involves ‘only one or two extremely violent and frightening abusive episodes that quickly precipitate treatment seeking.’”
I visited the website of the Disabled American Veterans Magazine. Entering the terms “interpersonal violence,” “partner violence,” and “domestic violence” into the magazine’s search engine, I searched every issue of the magazine from 1960 on. The Bannerman statement could not be verified. (When I later informed Ms. Bannerman of this fruitless search, she did not offer any comment.)
Conclusion: The statement appears to reflect the fanciful musings of an imaginative commentator.
2. The Veterans Administration “found that the majority of veterans with combat stress commit at least one act of spousal abuse in their first year post-deployment.”
Even after I offered to extend my deadline to accommodate Ms. Bannerman’s travel plans, she still did not provide the source of this claim. So I searched high and low — no luck. Finally I contacted the Veterans Administration. Tina Crenshaw, PhD of the National Center for PTSD replied, “I checked with a couple of researchers in this topic area — they were not aware of research supporting that statement.”
Conclusion: Add this gem to your Factoids from Nowhere collection.
3. “[S]ince 2003, there has been a 75 percent increase in reports of domestic violence in and around Ft. Hood.”
Bannerman emailed me, “As for the Ft. Hood figures, they were drawn from an article in USA Today.” But the USA Today article that is linked to her article says nothing about domestic violence, much less reports on an alleged “75 percent increase” in partner abuse.
Conclusion: Factoid from Nowhere No. 2.