Family Symposium at El Toro : Marines Attack Abuse of Children

Times Staff Writer

The sight was a little incongruous: a sea of burly Marines, all with crew cuts and wearing camouflage fatigues, listening intently as a tiny “Little Miss America” in a blue silk pinafore belted out “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

But the business in the El Toro Marine Air Corps Station auditorium Wednesday involved more than just song and dance.

The reigning “Little Miss America,” 5-year-old Tina Brosius, was part of a program of speakers, music and dramatic performances aimed at relaying the message that “child abuse is not acceptable Marine behavior.”


The program was sponsored by the base’s Family Services Center and Parent Help USA, a nonprofit, parental support group, as part of the base’s seventh annual conference on family issues.

Although the program, presented twice Wednesday, was not mandatory, several hundred Marines showed up and responded enthusiastically to the speakers and a series of vignettes depicting family confrontations presented by the Way Off Broadway Playhouse based in Santa Ana.

While Wednesday’s program attracted mostly Marines and their families, sponsors also hope to spread the word to the civilian world that the issue of family violence is an important one for the military.

With a growing awareness of the impact that family stress can have on its fighting forces, the Marine Corps in 1983 mandated that all bases have a family-advocacy program aimed at preventing and treating domestic violence.

“In the last 7 to 8 years, we have developed a systematic approach,” said Col. Jack Rippy, assistant chief of staff for manpower at the El Toro base. “I think we already do a good job of reacting to problems, but we want to go past that to preventing problems from occurring.”

One of the main ways to prevent abuse is to teach parents how to discipline their children without striking them, said Linda Wise, a psychologist who treats chronically ill children and their families.


“Harmful discipline often results from parents’ loss of control and includes using techniques of hitting, berating, name-calling, yelling and neglecting,” Wise explained. “It can also lead to loss of self-esteem for the child and learning to use aggression to cope with frustration.”

In 1988, nearly 19,000 reports of child abuse were reported to the county’s Child Abuse Registry, officials said.

More than 7,000 of the cases involved physical abuse, 4,000 were of sexual abuse, 900 of the cases were emotional abuse and more than 5,500 involved neglect.

Authorities on child abuse say that the incidence of abuse among military families mirrors that in the general public.

But officials concede that everyday family stresses are sometimes aggravated by military life.

“The military is a special-needs population,” said Sally Kanarek, executive director of Parent Help USA. “The Marines at El Toro, for example, are subject to being deployed for 6 months at a time and being separated from their families, and this is a very expensive area for a young military family to live in.”


Ruth Mushallo, deputy director of the family service center at El Toro, said that, in many ways, it is easier for a military family to cope because of the availability of a number of centrally located, free-of-cost services offered by the government.

“And we do have a rather captive audience,” Mushallo said. “We can provide services and make people come to them. When you become a Marine, you are a Marine 24 hours a day and we can establish a policy that gets followed.”


The Way Off Broadway Playhouse offers family-abuse vignettes at El Toro. Calendar, Page 10.