What the Police Need to Know About Victims of Domestic Violence

Posted: April 24, 2013 in Policing, Violence
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This is a guest post by Crystal Schwindt, author of “Shout the Secret: A Survivor’s Guide Through Domestic Violence and How to Thrive In Its Aftermath.” 

Much as an oil spill in the midst of a giant ocean begins as a drop and spreads quickly, slowly sucking the life out of every living thing it touches, so it is with domestic violence.  It contaminates generation after generation of a family, seeping into the cores of those exposed to it.

chained heart

It even expands to engulf our schools and our churches – affecting teachers and students, worshippers and clerics alike.  And, of course, it overwhelms our court systems, police forces, and other legal entities to the brink of potential victimization of the victim.  All of these cycles continue, much as the oil slick flows and grows on the current of the sea.

From a survivor’s standpoint, overcoming domestic violence is a challenge in its own right.  Recovery from the effects of violence and trauma is difficult to rise above in the best of circumstances.  It becomes even moreso when the person being victimized is forced – by nature of “due process”, bureaucracy, and red tape – to not only deal with their own challenges but also the external factors of a seemingly insensitive, uncaring, and self-justifying criminal justice system.

Ambulance Light

For example, historically, some of the men and women sworn to “protect and serve” within our police forces have been quite uninterested in dealing with “domestic matters.” They have, at times, even been restricted by laws that dictated the limits of what could be done when called to a domestic disturbance.  Fortunately, some states are now passing “mandatory arrest” laws that require officers to make an arrest if probable cause for an assault is established.  The only downside being that it’s not uncommon for the victim to be the one arrested.  Afterall, abusers are master manipulators of many things and perspectives — lying and making up stories being one of the biggest.

Also, police in most states, if not all, are now required to give victims in a domestic dispute a pamphlet about domestic violence with numbers to call for counseling, shelter, and other services.  This is something of an improvement, but it’s far from a total solution.

From a survivor’s viewpoint, I can tell you that the mere thought of engaging with the criminal justice process is daunting.  And, for some, this alone can become a reason not to call the police and to instead stay in an otherwise dangerous and violent relationship.  The confusion and the fear are simply too much.

What happens after the police intervene, the perpetrator is arrested, and then released on bail or bond, and comes back home? Mandatory arrest, pamphlets, and programs are not going to stop him from assaulting again. They may even make things worse.

This is difficult for people, including the police, to understand.

What you need to know is that “I” may be a victim of violence, but “I’m” not helpless and, although I may be ignorant, “I’m” not stupid. “I” make decisions every day about how to survive the challenges of living with a violent partner. Sometimes that means being quiet and staying put, and sometimes it does mean calling the police. It also sometimes means taking him back after an assault — not because “I” want to, but because there is no real, definitive protection (so to speak), and there may be other issues that “you” may not see or know that prevent me from feeling or being capable of rising to the challenges that await “me”, should “I” try to stand my ground.

And, even if none of this makes sense to you, it makes sense to me. It’s about navigating that oil spill – the sticky, unruly, and deadly waters of violence. It’s about survival.

Although Crystal is a DV survivor, she isn’t defined by that. Her experience spans 13+ years, two venues, and a multitude of courtrooms, judges, attorneys, and other legal resources, as well as representing herself on several occasions. Her book “Shout the Secret:  A Survivor’s Guide Through Domestic Violence and How to Thrive In Its Aftermath” is her fulfillment of a commitment to use these experiences for good — to help others so they may not have to endure as long.

Learn more, read about her book, and get connected to other resources at www.shoutthesecret.com.

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