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Potential Police Response to Domestic Violence Calls

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In my last blog, I talked about the fine line between emotional abuse and physical abuse. I recommended emotional abuse victims call their local domestic violence crisis center and police department to become educated. I suggested they ask questions to determine what type of police response they might expect if the police ever came to their home during a domestic violence incident.

Today, I’d like to share four possible scenarios* you might expect if police come to your house when your emotionally abusive partner suddenly begins to physically abuse you.

Before I do this, let me define some terms I’ll use:

Uneducated response – This is a response police might make to a domestic violence incident when they have not been trained in domestic violence, or how to react to it.

Educated response – This is a response police might make to a domestic violence incident when they have been trained in domestic violence and how to react to it.

Probably cause, Mandatory arrest – Some states or districts have a law that says that if police are called to a domestic violence incident, and they are fairly certain an act of physical abuse has occurred, they must, by law, arrest one or both of the participants.

Scenario 1 – Uneducated Response

One day your abuser, who until that point has been emotionally but not physically abusive, picks up a marble paperweight off your coffee table and throws it at you, knocking you in the head. You pass out for a minute. When you wake up, he has gone into another room, so you grab the phone, which you take into your bedroom, locking the door behind you. You call 911.

Within minutes, two police officers arrive. Your abuser meets them at the door and invites them in. He begins telling them how you had been nagging him all day, and he finally “lost it.” He picked up the paperweight just to “show you who is boss,” and you rushed at him, knocking your head into it.

Officer #1 under his breath to Officer #2: “Here we go again. Just like my first two wives. Worthless and stupid!”

Officer #2, to Officer #1: “Yeah, right—and mean. We need to teach these broads who’s boss.”

One of the officers turns to you. “Now, ma’am, you need to learn not to be such a nag. Get hold of yourself. Calm down.”

Neither of the officers takes the time to investigate what happened. They leave the house after about fifteen minutes. Officer #1 tells you, “If you can’t get along, just get a divorce, lady.” Officer #2 says, “If we have to come back again tonight, we are going to throw you both in jail.”

Without realizing it, these officers have just given your abuser the green light to beat you. Your abuser knows you won’t call them again and risk both of you being arrested.

Scenario 2: First Uneducated Response in a Probable Cause, Mandatory Arrest State

Your abuser has been emotionally abusive for years, but he has never once hit you. Lately, he has started drinking with “the boys” after work. You are sick of it. When he finally comes home after midnight one night, you start yelling at him. To your shock, he punches you in the face. As you fall to your knees in pain, watching blood pour from your mouth, your abuser pins you to the floor and holds you there, laughing in your face. You tell him to let you go, over and over again. Finally, you start to panic. You reach up and scratch him in the face, leaving four long red marks down his left cheek. He lets go of your arms to grab his face, and you roll away from him and go hide in your bathroom.

Meanwhile, your teenage daughter, who recently had a class in high school about self-defense, decides to call the police. She has had enough of her dad treating you this way, too! Five minutes later, you hear a knock at the door and someone saying, “Police, open up!”

Now what?

Your daughter goes to answer the door telling the officers what has happened. Your abuser meets them in the hall, and shows them the scratch marks on his face, which are now swelling into ugly red welts. He tells them his “b—h” of a wife scratched him for no reason. You walk out of the bathroom, sure you are safe now, and show the officers your bloody mouth.

The officers are tired. This is their third domestic violence call that evening, and they still have several hours on their shift. They have not had much training in domestic violence, and the state has recently changed its laws, which now stipulate that if probable cause exists a crime has been committed in a domestic violence case, an arrest must be made. First they listen to your abuser’s story, then yours, then your daughter’s. Then they listen to them all again. Things get more and more confusing. Finally, they tell you they can’t figure out who started it, and they decide to arrest both of you.

Scenario 3: Second Uneducated Response in a Probable Cause, Mandatory Arrest State

Your abuser has been emotionally abusive for years, and it has gotten much worse lately. You are beginning to be very afraid of him; in fact, you are thinking about leaving him. He realizes something is different about you, and he doesn’t like it. He starts arguing with you at the dinner table one night, and you try to walk away from him.

Suddenly, he grabs your arm. You start screaming loudly and try to pull your arm away from him, but he pulls you toward him. The next thing you know, he has his arm around your neck! You panic and begin screaming, “Help!” He laughs, and says, “This is funny, I wonder why I never did this before?” You decide you had better do something quickly, so you open your mouth and bite down on his arm as hard as you can, leaving red teeth marks on his skin. He lets you go, and you run to your bedroom and lock yourself in.

Your abuser is furious! He yells to no one in particular, “How dare that ‘b—h’ bite me? Who does she think she is? I’ll show her!” He picks up his cell phone and calls 911. He tells them, “My ‘crazy’ wife became abusive, and bit me for no reason. Would you please come out and stop her before she really hurts me?”

The police arrive within ten minutes, and your abuser greets them. He shows them the bite marks you left on his arm, and pretends to be a loving husband who is “afraid” of his wife. Back in your room, you hear the police arrive, and you come into the hall. The police ask to see any physical marks your abuser has left on you, but bruises wouldn’t show yet; you have no marks to show them.

The police ask you to tell your story, but they don’t remove your abuser from the room. You are afraid to talk to them with your abuser right there! You think to yourself, “what if they don’t arrest him? Who knows what will happen to me if I tell them what really happened. I’d better just keep my mouth shut.”

So you tell them nothing. The older cop says, “Lady, you’d better speak up. We don’t like to arrest broads, but he’s the only one with any marks on him.” The younger officer looks sympathetic and says, “I suspect you might be an abused woman, but if you don’t speak up, we can’t help you.” Your mind keeps spinning in circles. You look over at your abuser, who glares at you. You think about the hell he might put your through if you tell them he had been strangling you. Finally, the older cop says, “Well, lady, this state has a ‘probable cause, mandatory arrest’ policy regarding domestic violence. So, we have to arrest one of you. Since your abuser has bite marks on his arm, and you look OK, we are going to have to arrest you. You have the right to remain silent . . . ”

Scenario 4: Progressive, Educated Response

This is a similar situation to Scenario 3, just described. Your abuser grabs you and begins to strangle you. Only, in this scenario, you live in an apartment. The woman next door, Nancy, is listening at the wall. Nancy has heard you arguing ever since she moved in five months ago, and you know she has been upset the entire time because she has asked you several times if you were OK. She grew up with an abusive father who finally killed her mother. Nancy has tried to talk to you several times, but you have always lied and told her everything was fine at home. She has told you that she has promised herself if she ever heard your abuser doing anything physical to you, she would call the police. When she hears you scream, “Help!” she picks up the phone and dials 911.

Not knowing the police are on the way, you bite your abuser’s arm. When he lets you go, you run to Nancy’s apartment, where she quickly opens the door and lets you in. When the police arrive, your abuser greets them. He shows them the bite marks on his arm, and pretends to be a timid husband who is “afraid” of his wife. You come over from Nancy’s apartment. The police ask to see any physical marks your abuser has left on you, but bruises wouldn’t show yet; you have no marks to show them.

However, the police in this district have been trained in domestic violence. They recognize that a bite mark on a forearm is often a self-defense wound, inflicted when someone is being strangled. They ask if you would like a domestic violence advocate to be called. You say you would like that. She won’t arrive for about thirty minutes. In the meantime, the two officers separate you and your abuser. One officer takes your abuser’s statement in your kitchen, while the other officer tries to take your statement in Nancy’s kitchen. You are afraid to talk to him, so he begins by taking Nancy’s statement.

Thirty minutes later, the DV advocate arrives, and begins talking to you. First she asks you if you feel safe. You tell her no, you do not feel safe. You say you are afraid to tell the police what really happened because, if you do, your abuser will be really angry. She explains to you that your state is a mandatory arrest state. You have never heard of that! You ask her what that means. She says if the police have probable cause to believe a crime was committed in a domestic violence case, someone will have to be arrested. The DV advocate also explains the district attorney will offer you a no contact order, so your abuser will be barred from your home, and not allowed to contact you at all, or he will be arrested again. You think about it for a while, and decide having him arrested is better.

So, you give the officers your complete statement, which matches the statement of your neighbor, Nancy. While you are giving your statement, the younger officer examines your neck more closely. He notices a few slight scratches, which he takes pictures of. He also notices your voice sounds raspy, and he takes an audio recording of you talking. He asks you if that is the way your voice usually sounds. You are surprised, because you hadn’t noticed anything different, but now that he mentions it, both you and Nancy agree your voice does sound a bit different. He hands you a glass of water, and remarks you seem to be having a hard time swallowing.

The officer calls an ambulance to come examine you. You protest, saying you feel fine. The DV advocate explains bruising from strangulation on the inside of the throat can cause death, sometimes as much as thirty-six hours later. You decide you will go with the EMTs.

The officers take all the evidence into consideration:

  •   Your abuser’s statement
  •   Your statement
  •   Your neighbor’s statement
  •   The position of the bite mark on your abuser’s forearm
  •   The scratches on your neck
  •   Your raspy voice
  •   Your difficulty swallowing

They decide all the evidence supports your claim that your abuser tried to strangle you, and you bit him in self-defense, and they decide to arrest him.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Your abuser may move from emotional to physical abuse in an instant.
  2. If and when he does, you will be shocked and disoriented.
  3. If you have not prepared, you will have no idea if the police in your district have been educated in domestic violence. You will not know how to respond if they suddenly show up at your house.
  4. You may possibly be the one arrested if your abuser appears to have more marks on him than you do.
  5. When the police do arrive, try to behave as calmly as possible. If you behave irrationally, the police will be more apt to arrest you.
  6. You would be wise to ask for a domestic violence advocate to be called to the scene. If your police department doesn’t have one, ask that your statement be taken in a different room from your abuser. Tell the officers this is because you are afraid of your abuser.

Being emotionally or physically abused by someone you love is a terrible experience. Being arrested by the police who suddenly show up at your door would make your life even worse. Becoming educated about what might happen if the police do suddenly show up is wise. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:16:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” 

Living with an abuser is like living with a wolf. His intentions are to do you daily harm. May the Lord protect you as you move forward.

Caroline

 

*These scenarios are taken from my book, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom.

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