As a police officer for my entire adult life, I have responded to many calls of domestic violence. In the early days, we could not make an arrest for an assault not committed in our presence, a big factor in our ability to arrest domestic abusers. One of my very first calls was to a home where there had clearly been a fight. Present was an angry man and a silent but crying woman. She had some signs of minor injury like bruising but she refused to speak to us. He was very angry and yelling at my partner and I, ordering us out of his house. We suggested to her that she leave and that we would take her somewhere else but she declined to leave. In the end, all we could do was leave. I remember wondering why she wouldn’t at least leave with us. I didn’t know much then about the dynamics of domestic violence. I didn’t know that the most dangerous time for a woman was the point at which she leaves her abuser.
Before the changes in the assault laws, there were many frustrating occasions where we loaded up women and woke sleeping children to help them pack to leave while the arrogant abuser sat in the living room making threats to her and to us but since we had not seen an assault there was nothing we could do. We helped victims and their children find a safe place to go, family members and shelters. It was never a perfect solution and since these women mostly had no resources they were forced to return at some point and so were we.
Sometimes if the abuser was also drunk we employed a work around to get him to walk out into the street so we could arrest him for public drunkenness and at least give her a night to organize her escape before he was released in the morning. Abusers usually don’t like women in authority so I was sometimes the “bait” who would stand in the street and call him until he rushed out to attack me then fellow officers would rush him and the arrest was made. it was a poor system but all we had.
I also remember my first arrest for domestic violence when the law changed. I was on an afternoon shift as a supervisor and responded with officers to an apartment we’d been to before for domestic violence. I knew the law had changed and that I could make an arrest for an assault not committed in my presence if I had evidence. The abuser didn’t know it. So when we got there we completed our investigation which included reviewing the clear signs of a fight in the house, the bruising on her face, her statement and that of her children. He was sitting on a couch smirking at us the whole time. When I walked over to tell him to stand up and put his hands behind his back (to be handcuffed) he knew what that meant. He started shouting that we couldn’t do that and there was a brief struggle while we got the cuffs on. I remember it so well because it was such a vindicating feeling. I was glad to arrest that guy–he had earned it.
Now there is a whole system to deal with this all too common crime. I don’t know why we can’t eradicate it but I know we have to keep trying. It is a complex set of circumstances that keeps women in these relationships and fear is not the least of the emotions. I cannot even begin to understand why a man would abuse a woman in such brutal ways that he says he “loves”. Domestic homicide is an all too common crime. There is a reason why spouses are always the first suspect in a homicide case.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We are fortunate to have an outstanding agency dedicated to domestic violence prevention, HAVEN. Support them if you can–they do good work.