Domestic Abuse in the British Military Community: Structure, Discourse, and Help-Seeking

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 11:45 AM
Room: Booth 50
Oral Presentation
Harriet GRAY , London School Economics & Political Science, London, United Kingdom
This paper employs a feminist analysis to explore civilian military wives’ experiences of domestic abuse in the British military context. Although military families do not live their lives in complete isolation from the civilian sphere, their lives and communities are shaped to a significant extent by the gendered structures and discourses which construct military culture. Following Stark (2007), I conceptualise domestic abuse not primarily as a crime of assault, but as a gendered pattern of power and control in which a perpetrator attempts to entrap his/her partner in a state of “unfreedom” through the micro-regulation of his/her everyday life. I suggest that the particularities of life in the British military community reshape the tools and opportunities for, as well as the barriers to, both the perpetration of and the resistance to such a pattern of control. This has implications for help-seeking and the provision of support services.

This paper draws on interviews carried out with civilian women who have experienced abuse in marriages to British servicemen, servicemen who have perpetrated domestic abuse, and military and civilian support workers with experience of supporting either/both of these client groups. I tease out the ways in which a range of factors including the material structures of military life, militarised constructions of the public and private spheres, wives’ disempowered position on the borders of the military community, and discourses around heroism, duty, protection, and precarity produce particular vulnerabilities to abuse and particular help-seeking needs. In concluding, I explore the contributions of this work for the provision of services to this particular group of women as well as its wider implications for understanding the challenges faced by military families in the 21st century.

Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control: how men entrap women in personal life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.