The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

20 NOVEMBER 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL SPEAKING OUT Preventing Domestic Violence Is Our Shared Responsibility, at Home and Abroad BY L ES L I E BASSETT Leslie Bassett retired in 2017 from the Senior Foreign Service. She is a former U.S. ambassador to Paraguay. Ambassador Bassett also served as deputy chief of mission in Seoul, Manila, Mexico City and Gaborone. W e like to believe that our community is immune to domestic violence, but 15 years in embassy leadership positions taught me that we are more vulnerable than we may realize. For many of my former colleagues, the August murder of Foreign Commer- cial Service Officer Lola Gulomova, by her FSO husband Jason Rieff (who then committed suicide), was both a terrible shock and a powerful awakening. The couple’s marriage had reportedly been under strain through several tours abroad until its brutal end in Washington, D.C. Many knew and respected them both. No one saw it coming, and many wondered if something could have been done to prevent this dreadful, shocking outcome. I have hadmy ownmoments of pro- found shock, especially while serving over- seas. The dependent spouse who psycho- logically abusedmy friend and colleague, who said nothing about it. The employee and spouse whomutually fought each other physically and loudly. The rarely seen wife who told the health unit she was afraid of her spouse, then changed her position, then was impossible for us to reach for a scary time as her husband went so far as to disconnect the phones. Domestic violence is a challenge we need to recognize and try to preempt by early engagement on behalf of troubled families. The necessary tools include education and awareness, engagement and trust, and support and protection. This effort must include everyone in the community. Definitions and Guidelines What is domestic violence? 3 FAM 1811 defines it thus: “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.” A supplementary Foreign Affairs Manual section (3 FAM 1815) addresses child abuse. For employees under chief of mission authority abroad, 3 FAM 1810 (ampli- fied by the recent cable, 19 State 77404) requires that concerns regarding possible domestic violence be brought to the attention of what is now referred to as the Family Advocacy Team. That committee, established at every post and convened as needed, is led by the deputy chief of mission (DCM) or equivalent, and includes the regional security officer (RSO) and the regional medical officer (RMO) and psychiatrist (RMOP). In practice, I found that the man- agement counselor’s participation was imperative. The community liaison office coordinator (the CLO) was often involved in providing information and serving as the link to affected family members, if appropriate (this is one reason the DCM should always hold regular meetings with the CLO, by the way). If the employee belonged to another agency, that agency head might be brought in as well. Different agencies bring different resources to the table. Law enforcement and military agencies, for instance, have guidance regarding official weapons carried by their person- nel that must be considered in line with post weapons policy. A Careful Process When I was alerted as head of the Family Advocacy Team to a concern about a family’s welfare, the information was often vague but heartfelt, lacking specific proof of abuse or violence. I would meet immediately with the RSO and regional medical officer (who usually brought in the regional psychiatrist for essen- tial insight and counseling contacts) to discuss the best means of confirming the well-being of family members and validat- ing what had been shared. There was no rush to judgment, but