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Spouse Abuse A Military Problem

Pentagon records show that 50,000 military spouses were victims of domestic violence over a five-year period, a number that is five times higher than for the civilian population during the same period, CBS 60 Minutes Co-Editor Ed Bradley reported Sunday.

The U.S. military routinely fails to punish service members convicted of domestic violence, even in extreme cases. Of the accused, fewer than 5 percent were court-martialed, according to Pentagon statistics cited by the television program.

The report was based on a review of Pentagon records from 1992 through 1996 and a comparison with Department of Justice records for the same period.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen declined to speak to 60 Minutes about the issue.

Robert Clark, the commanding general of Fort Campbell, Ky., where several particularly violent incidents have occurred, said the military does a good job handling domestic violence cases.

In a written statement, Clark said the U.S. Army has "taken active measures to prevent, identify and intervene at the earliest known occurrence of domestic violence."

But Peter MacDonald, chief district court judge in Kentucky with jurisdiction over Fort Campbell, said the Army routinely ignores his court orders designed to protect abused spouses. "They have no conception of what's going on in domestic violence," he said.

In one case, MacDonald issued an emergency protective order requiring Sgt. Bill Coffin to stay away from Ronnie Spence, his ex-fiancee. She was shot to death in her home in December 1997. Coffin pleaded guilty to domestic violence and other charges and is expected to be sentenced next month.

"They're not taking this seriously," MacDonald said. "And if they can't take my order seriously, how can they take the issue of domestic violence seriously?"

Sherri Arnold, a licensed family therapist, was hired by the Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to investigate cases of domestic violence and make recommendations.

She told 60 Minutes that when she requested military protective orders to keep servicemen away from abused spouses, superior officers often would say, "No. I know what's best. This is my Marine, and I will take care of him."

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