Reporting Your Abuser

There are many personal and professional reasons for not wanting the department to know what's going on in your personal life. You know that reporting your abuse to the department will have serious repercussions — personally and professionally — for both you and your intimate partner. Some departments have policies requiring employees to report knowledge of officer domestic abuse incidents. If you have friends in the department who know a officer is abusing you, they may feel compelled to report it.

Consider these questions before you go to the department:

Know Your Department's Policy

Most departments have established protocol for how officers are to respond to civilian domestic violence incidents, but few have policy specific to officer-involved incidents. A policy may work to your advantage or disadvantage. It may be to your advantage if you want to be sure that the incident is not swept under the rug and you want the department to act against your abuser. But the policy could work against you if you only wanted intervention for a specific incident. A full-blown investigation may be initiated by the department's internal investigator or review board.

Do not rely on what your batterer tells you about department policy. Ask your domestic violence agency to request a copy of your local department's policy. If you live outside your abuser's jurisdiction, then you need policies from the employing department and your local (responding) department. The policy will tell you what responding officers are supposed to do when they respond to a domestic involving a police officer. If they don't follow the policy, make sure you document their failure to do so.

The department is liable for what is in their written policy.

What to Look for in the Policy


Once you go to the department, the matter may be out of your hands. Police and fire stations are notorious for gossip and a wife or girlfriend coming in to make a complaint is newsworthy. You may plan to talk to the chief confidentially, but it may be impossible because the department becomes liable as soon as you speak to someone in command.

Liability depends on what the department knows, when the department was informed, and what the department did about it.

Departments take different approaches to officer-involved domestic violence. Some have in-house victim liaisons specifically for victims of police officers. The liaison can meet with you just as she would meet with any other victim. She can provide information about your rights and options. She may have influence within the department and be familiar with departmental policies, rules and protocols. Without special training about officer-involved cases, however, her general knowledge may be insufficient to provide sound information. She has limited ability to disagree, monitor, confront, or defy the department when your needs and wishes conflict with departmental policies. As an employee of the department, the liaison can be ordered to proceed with an action that may compromise your confidentiality or safety. Her files may also be accessible to others in the department, presenting the risk of your batterer or others obtaining information about your safety plans or strategy.

Official Misconduct

The chief has ultimate authority and responsibility for the conduct of his officers. Many chiefs prefer to look the other way to avoid the fact that they have an abuser in the ranks. When an officer's behavior starts getting out of line, they usually attempt to deal with it in-house. But when the officer's activities embarrass higher-ups, risk criminal prosecution, or become public knowledge, he then becomes a political — and legal — liability. Departments are liable for official misconduct by their officers. Most supervisors will listen when you report that your family member is misusing police powers by stalking or abusing you, friends, or family members while on duty.

Ask yourself if what your abuser is doing is different because of his power and status as a police officer. For example, does your abuser...

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How Will the Department React?

It's difficult for you to know which of your abuser's behaviors will be considered serious enough to warrant departmental intervention. The chief may consider non-physical types of abuse — verbal abuse, sexual affairs, financial irresponsibility — as strictly personal or marital problems. He may say he can't interfere in an officer's private life unless it affects his job performance. Many, perhaps most, chiefs don't understand the dynamics of domestic violence. They don't recognize that certain behaviors are warning signs that nonphysical abuse can escalate into physical violence.

The chief will have to acknowledge your complaint in some way. Many do this by calling the abuser in and informing the officer that the matter has come to the department's attention. He will be put on notice to watch his behavior.

The chief has to have evidence other than your allegations to order an officer into counseling or treatment. If you have evidence of professional misconduct, the chief may order an internal investigation. He may strip the officer of police powers and suspend him, or place him on restricted duty pending the outcome of the investigation. This could make you safer or it could endanger you, depending on the circumstances. Keep your safety your highest priority.

If you are an officer or employee of the department, policies are often a double-edged sword. They can protect you in some ways but also make you more vulnerable in other ways. Policy may require only the respondent on an Order of Protection to notify the department. Some policies require either the respondent or the petitioner to report the existence of a protective order. This may or may not result in any direct intervention. If supervisors see the abuse as a marital dispute or a "he said, she said" situation, they may determine that no reassignment, disciplinary action, or safety planning is required. Policies mandating that any officer report knowledge of a domestic involving another may deter you from confiding in a fellow officer since they would have to choose between honoring your confidentiality or violating policy. If policy requires you to report your own abuse, you may be disciplined for not having reported the abuse when it began.

Is It Safe to Go to the Media?

Media attention can be very perilous ground. Women are not necessarily safer if they are in the public eye, particularly in cases involving police, public officials, or other high-profile abusers. You might think that by going to the media you'll safer because the public will know about your abuse and the department's response to you. Reporters might tempt you by saying they can help you by telling your story. But once you open your life to media attention, there is no going back. What gets into the story may be only the most sensational or bizarre aspects of your experience.

Your abuser (or his colleagues) may try to silence you through threats, intimidation, or violence. He may also work harder to discredit you and turn any initial public sympathy against you. Media attention can also be humiliating and frightening for your children. If you want to use the media to tell your story, talk through the possible risks and benefits with an experienced advocate.

Make an Informed Decision

Any one of these actions may put you at risk. Never underestimate the danger to yourself, your family, and friends. Make certain you have a solid safety plan in place. Discussing your plans with an experienced domestic violence counselor or attorney may help you to determine whether going to the department is a good strategy. Remember that though others may assist you, ultimately you are the only one who can make decisions regarding your safety.

If you are a member of law enforcement, we strongly suggest that you meet with an experienced advocate to discuss your options before taking specific steps. Depending on policy, you could be disciplined for not reporting your own victimization. To refuse to cooperate could be grounds for discipline or dismissal.

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

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