@StateDept Updates FAM For Reporting Domestic Violence — See What’s Missing?

Posted: 12:19 am ET
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We recently blogged about a diplomat from the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations in New York who is accused of punching his wife but is shielded from arrest by diplomatic immunity (see Manhattan DA Wants Diplomatic Immunity For UN German Diplomat Revoked). How do diplomatic missions handle cases of domestic abuse? According to the AP, the German Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the allegations and said he wasn’t aware of any request to lift the diplomat’s immunity.

In July 2016, the State Department updated its Foreign Affairs Manual for reporting domestic violence. First, let’s note that the words used in this update is not/not “must” which is mandatory but “should” which simply implies recommendation and advice. “Any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information…”  Also, let’s note that if the initial report is substantiated, all eight possible actions cited in the updated regs uses the word “may,” which means they’re all recommended optional actions.  For instance, if a report is substantiated, Diplomatic Security “may” refer information to the Bureau of Human Resources (HR) for disciplinary action. Or it may not.

Second, according to 3 FAM 1810,  the Chief of Mission or Principal Officer overseas is responsible for designating a family advocacy officer (FAO) at post, normally the deputy chief of mission (DCM), or the second-in-command at posts where there is no DCM.  Here’s a question: What happens if the perpetrator of domestic violence is the Chief of Mission or the Principal Officer? The DCM, who reports to the ambassador, picks up the phone and convenes the family advocacy team at post which includes the Foreign Service Medical Officer (FSMO), and the Regional Security Officer (RSO). Then one of them calls up the State Department to report the abusive ambassador because the regs say they should?  (Apparently, although not listed, the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P) could also be part of the advocacy team at post).

A DCM would not wash his/her hands on something disgraceful as this, would he/would she? The Medical Officer would not suddenly go on vacation somewhere, right? It would not take um … weeks for Foggy Bottom’s Family Advocacy Committee to provide guidance to post, right?

And, of course, the embassy’s family advocacy folks would protect the ambassador’s spouse because it’s the right thing to do, RIGHT?

Domestic violence affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Despite what you might think, the Foreign Service is not an exception.  Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result not only in physical injury but also psychological trauma, even death.

And yet, the Foreign Affairs Manual appears to be written by folks who could not seem to contemplate that a chief of mission (COM) can cause physical and mental injury to his/her spouse.  Embassies are not democracies; this FAM update offers no protection to the spouse of the most senior official at an embassy. Its language is all bark, and the bite for everyone else — like most things in the Foreign Service —  falls into the “it depends” bucket.

Below is an excerpt from the FAM:

3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
3 FAM 1815.1  Reporting Domestic Violence
(CT:PER-824;   07-19-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/USDA/and Other Participating Agencies)
(Applies to All Civil Service Employees, Foreign Service Employees, and Locally Employed Staff)

a. Domestic violence can often involve criminal misconduct (e.g., assault, battery, rape) and the Department considers it notoriously disgraceful conduct (see 3 FAM 4139.14).  As such, it is grounds for taking disciplinary action against an employee.  Any supervisor or other management official who is aware of incidents or allegations, which may serve as grounds for disciplinary action against an employee, is responsible for taking action on or reporting such incidents or allegations (see 3 FAM 4322.1).

b. In cases where there is evidence or allegations of criminal misconduct, as noted in paragraph a of this section, the Office of Special Investigations(DS/DO/OSI) will coordinate with the Department of Justice and/or U.S. Attorney’s office to determine if the actions reported warrant criminal prosecution.

c.   At post, any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information to the family advocacy officer (FAO) at post.  The FAO must take the actions required by this section.

d. At the Department locations in the United States, any person who suspects an employee is involved in domestic violence should report such information to DS/DO/OSI.

3 FAM 1815.2  Post Action and Department Guidance
(CT:PER-824;   07-19-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/USDA/and Other Participating Agencies)
(Applies to All Civil Service Employees, Foreign Service Employees, and Locally Employed Staff)

a. Upon receiving a report or obtaining information pertaining to a suspected case of domestic violence, the family advocacy officer (FAO) must immediately consult with the family advocacy team at post.  The family advocacy team must immediately assess and address any health and safety concerns for the victim and the victim’s children, if any.  Where necessary, promptly schedule with the Foreign Service medical officer (FSMO) medical and/or mental health examinations and/or consultations for persons covered under the Department’s medical program.  Prompt and accurate recording of medical information, interviews and, when possible, the collection of physical evidence and photographs documenting physical injuries is critical in all cases.

b. A member of the family advocacy team must immediately contact the Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) telephonically and provide, normally within 24 hours, an initial written report containing available information.  The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is to share such information with the Family Advocacy Committee.

c.  The Family Advocacy Committee assesses the information and provides guidance to post.  Each case of suspected domestic violence must be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the nature of the allegations.  If the initial report is unsubstantiated or if the allegations do not constitute domestic violence, no further action is required.  The matter is considered closed and the files are annotated accordingly.

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following:

(1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases;

(2)  DS may dispatch an investigative team to post, and a criminal investigation may be undertaken;

(3)  DS may coordinate with the cognizant legal authorities about prosecution of the case;

(4)  Post may be asked to conduct follow-up inquiries and interviews;

(5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children;

(6)  The FSMO may be asked to determine whether counseling or other medical services are needed and recommend a treatment plan.  If required treatment is not available at post, medical evacuation or curtailment of the employee may be considered or ordered;

(7)  The Family Advocacy Committee may coordinate referrals to crime victim assistance programs specializing in domestic violence and crime victim compensation programs; and

(8)  DS may refer information to the Bureau of Human Resources (HR) for disciplinary action.

Per 3 FAM 1810 domestic violence is any act or threat of imminent violence against a victim (other than a child) that results or threatens to result in physical or mental injury to the victim that is committed by a: (1)  Spouse or former spouse of the victim; (2)  Person with whom the victim shares a child in common; (3)  Person who is co-habitating with or has co-habitated with the victim; (4)  Person residing in the household; or (5)  Any person who has a relationship with the victim and has access to the victim’s household.

Below is Leslie Morgan Steiner talking about “crazy love” via TED — that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence.

 

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