Getting Help


How You Tell Your Story

Once you decide to ask for help, you will have to explain your situation to others, even if you go to a Family Justice Center. They may include your friends and family, co-workers, supervisors, internal affairs investigators, community advocates, shelter workers, attorneys, psychological evaluators, prosecutors, and judges. If there are divorce and custody issues involved, child psychologists and custody evaluators, the children's attorney, and child protective services will become involved.

Not all professionals are familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence, and few understand the many facets of police-perpetrated domestic violence.

Each person will focus on a different aspect of your case, and each will have a different power over your life and that of your children. You need their help. You only have a short time to make them understand a lifetime of abuse. You have to decide when and how to tell them your story. And you have to relate the facts in a way that makes people listen to you.

As difficult as it is, it is extremely important that you do your best to maintain your composure. Remain as calm as you can so that people don't dismiss you as a "hysterical woman." Women often understate the severity of violence and abuse, even when talking to friends, family or counselors. Understatements are even more likely when speaking to an intimidating authority figure such as a police chief, investigator, or prosecutor.

It is extremely important that you describe each incident accurately, in detail, and in your own words. It is to your benefit to be able to tell your story clearly and graphically.

Consider the following contrasting descriptions of the same event:

Save Evidence

Save all correspondence from your abuser even if it is not threatening. If your order of protection prohibits your abuser from contacting you, this violates the order. These records are your evidence. Save all threatening email or voice mail messages. Set up your email and voice mail to automatically record the date and time of messages. Make copies of all correspondence and important documents and keep them in a safe place that your abuser does not know. If you can, keep a diary of everything that has been happening. Consider asking your domestic violence counselor or attorney to keep your papers, mail them to yourself at a rented mailbox, or put them in a safe deposit box.

Abuser's Preemptive Strategies

Your abuser already knows how to present his version of the story. He knows how to turn the facts around so that he gets sympathy. If the abuser senses that you are going to tell someone about the abuse, he is likely to take preemptive action. Fellow officers may be sympathetic. Many judges believe that if a male claims to be a victim of abuse it must be true; they feel it would be too humiliating and embarrassing for a man — especially a police officer — to claim to be a victim unless it was true.

You know that your abuser has the power to threaten or destroy your family and career. He could do this by making false reports against you. He could allege that you threatened him with a weapon during an argument. If you are also an officer, he could maneuver you into drawing your weapon in self-defense. He can contact your friends, family, any professionals helping you and convince them that he is the "real" victim. His fellow officers may agree to harass and intimidate you or family members.

If you have been in a secret same-sex relationship, your abuser has probably threatened to out you. Coming out on your own to your friends and family will take away one of his/her most powerful weapons but it may have repercussions. If you are married or have children, disclosing your sexual orientation may affect a divorce or custody action. If you are a lesbian, your abuser may have already contacted resources in the women's community in an effort to turn them against you. She may have called your local domestic violence agency and claimed that she is the victim to prevent you from receiving victim services.

Confronting Stereotypes

No matter how well you tell your story, people will still have their own opinions about who you are, what you did or didn't do: "Why don't you just leave? What's wrong with you? Why won't you listen to us?" It doesn't matter whether they are family, friends, or professionals. It hurts. It makes you angry. They act like they know what's best for you. They treat you like a child. You feel frustrated and alone.

A lot of people think they know what a "battered woman" looks and acts like. They will believe you only if you match their stereotype. You must be visibly injured, scared, and passive. If you insist on making your own decisions based on your own experience — knowing you are the expert in your own life — they may question your credibility. If you express your anger or frustration or assert your will, you are not living up to their image of a victim. They may tell you to calm down or even refuse to listen to you until you act "appropriately." They may call you a jealous bitch who is just out to make trouble. They may treat you as the abuser if you fought back in self-defense and were arrested.

They may feel compelled to take control and make decisions for you because they don't think you are capable of thinking clearly or acting in your own best interest. They may throw around terms like battered woman's syndrome, parental alienation, or learned helplessness. They may ask you what you did to make him abuse you. They may instruct you to pray and seek his forgiveness. They expect you to listen and act on their advice, to trust in their power to protect you, and to believe that they know what's best for you.

Chances are you will have to educate your friends, family, and many professionals in the dynamics of officer-involved domestic abuse. They may understand family violence in general terms, but they probably have no idea how unique and complex your situation is. Regrettably, it is up to you to educate not only those dear to you, but also the advocates and other providers with whom you will be working. We have the resources, books, and information you need.

If you are in Law Enforcement

Your co-workers will react in many different ways when they learn you are a victim of abuse. If your abuser is a civilian, fellow officers are apt to support you and do everything they can to protect you. But if your abuser is in the military, a firefighter, or another officer, it's a different story. Some will resent your bringing your personal problems to the job. Many will refuse to take sides because they work with both of you. Some will believe the abuser's story over yours; others will be angry with you for betraying one of your own by reporting the abuse. They may underestimate the lethality of your situation because you and your partner have been trained to maintain control in all situations. If you're both female, people may believe that you and your abuser are equals; responding officers and others may consider you to be mutual combatants.

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When Friends & Family Want to Help


Believe Her

Most of us see police and first responders as brave individuals who risk their lives to protect others so it's difficult to accept that some of them terrorize and threaten their own families. A batterer typically isolates his victim from her family and friends. He tells her that no one will believe her. He may force her to turn away from you with threats to hurt you. He warns her that people — even you — will believe his version of the story because he's a cop. He knows that people don't want to believe that an officer, sheriff, or firefighter can be a wife beater. He knows that it's easier for people to believe that she's lying, crazy, or refuses to do anything for herself.

Few people fully realize the impact of police and firefighter domestic violence. Many victims report that others don't appreciate the complexity of their situation. It's disappointing and frustrating for a woman to have to educate the very people she hoped would help and support her. As a family member or friend of an abused woman, you're afraid for her. You want to support her but you may also be confused, frustrated and afraid to get involved. When you learn how the batterer can use his professional tactics of power and control to intimidate your friend or family member, you will better understand the danger she's in. We suggest that you get familiar with some of the jargon, complications, and issues. It will then be easier for her to talk with you because she won't have to explain everything to you.

The more you learn about police-perpetrated domestic violence, the better will you be able to support your friend or family member.

Provide Support

What are her safety options? Anticipating the potential outcomes of her actions can assist her in preparing for those outcomes. Help her develop a realistic safety plan for herself and her children.

Does she need to escape? Help her find a place to go that the abuser would not know about. Help her get there without using her own car. Make sure she has cash because she can't use any credit cards.

What are her legal needs? Help her find an attorney who has experience working with domestic violence. It may be necessary to educate the attorney on the nuances of officer-involved domestic violence.

Is she also in law enforcement? She is particularly vulnerable because she must rely on the integrity and discretion of her fellow officers and supervisors to intervene and provide protection.

Talk with her about her greatest fears. What threats has he made against her and others close to her? How immediate are the threats? What is the likelihood of her receiving appropriate police protection?

Help her find resources and accurate information. It might be safer if you print out articles or buy any books and then give them to her or allow her to keep them at your house.

Consider Your Own Safety

Friend, family member, care provider, advocate, attorney, co-worker, fellow officer... you too may be at risk.

You might be afraid to get more involved because you don't want to endanger yourself or your family. The abuser can use many of the same professional tactics against you that he uses against his intimate partner. He may intimidate you by warning you not to get involved. He may let you know that he has the power to harm or kill her and that you can't stop him. If you have ever tried to get help for your friend or for yourself, you may have become frustrated because no one seems to understand the complexities of officer-involved domestic violence. The usual sources of help, such as your local community domestic violence advocates, may have little or no experience working with police victims. Domestic violence counselors may offer you the same options that they give to civilian battered women. Others may be afraid to get involved because of the abuser's influence in the community. Some may be afraid for their own personal safety.

Advocates should discuss strategies to protect themselves. The same tactics abusers use to intimidate their intimate partners can be used against advocates. Advocates report they have been followed, subjected to bogus traffic stops, and get harassing or intimidating phone calls. A batterer may be subtle but still threatening.

A police abuser has the power to set the entire criminal justice system in motion against anyone who helps his victim.

The abusive officer has a wide range of official powers and privileges that he can employ to intimidate or threaten you. He has access to confidential information such as your unlisted phone number, car registration, work location, even your credit and financial information. He can use electronic surveillance tools such as phone taps, sound-activated audio and video recording devices. There are vehicle tracking devices that he can attach to your vehicle. He knows how to get into your car or house. The abuser or fellow officers may drive by your street, your workplace, even your children's school or day care. They may harass you, your family, or friends with traffic stops, planted evidence, and false arrests. He can convince your neighbors to watch you and report to him. He doesn't fear the consequences of you calling the police. Responding officers may be his colleagues and friends who sympathize with him. If you think to personally challenge him, he knows how to make you afraid to take any legal steps.

Resources

If you are in law enforcement, you may be struggling with your own mixed feelings. You may find yourself making job-related excuses for the abuser that you would not make for a person in any other profession. You might be torn between wanting to protect the abuser's career and protecting the victim. Or you may be angry at the abuser and want to see him off the job, but fear retaliation if he is fired or suspended. If you serve at command level, Developing Policy on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence may help you understand how solutions good from the department's perspective can make things worse for the victim. We also suggest Crossing the Threshold: Female Officers & Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence to better understand how institutional power filters down into intimate relationships. Finally, Abusive Police Officers Working the System shows how abusive officers can control and manipulate family and friends through their knowledge of the justice system.

If you are an advocate or other professional, we expect you're rethinking many of your strategies on many different levels. Your agency may be in partnership with the abuser's department, especially if you are partnered with a Family Justice Center. We recommend reading When the Batterer Is a Law Enforcement Officer: Guide for Advocates. This manual explores why standard remedies often are inadequate when dealing with officer-involved domestics. Hijacked by the Right explores why so many independent community agencies are losing their funding and being forced to join a Family Justice Center or close their doors.

Learning more about police-perpetrated domestic violence may help you get support for both yourself and your friend or family member. There are more resources and information available for you and your family. Our books are available in both print and electronic format.

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MORE INFO

As a victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than other domestic violence victims.

Our books are available through:

SmashWords (e-book)
Victim Handbook
Crossing the Threshold
Amazon (print)
Hijacked by the Right
Crossing the Threshold
Victim Handbook by Diane Wetendorf