Since 1983, as an advocate for battered women, I have listened to women's stories and tried to appreciate the uniqueness of every woman's life. As I listened to victims of police officer batterers, I recognized that they were describing their lives in the context of a particular culture — the police culture. Women referred to the police family and explained that being the wife or girlfriend of a police officer means abiding by that culture's rules: "What happens in the family stays in the family, and what happens in the police family stays in the police family." Every victim told of being warned by her abuser that if she interfered with his career she would pay dearly.
Victims were afraid to talk to anyone who might report them to the police. The assurance that we were independent advocates who were not required to share information with the police was vital.
When I began working with victims of police officers, I gave them my standard explanation of family violence, police response, shelter options, and protective orders. Each woman expressed her frustration that the information I was giving her might work for other women, but would not work for her because these options relied on the police and the justice system — institutions which consistently failed to protect her. I learned that domestic violence within police ranks is a litmus test of law enforcement's commitment to public safety. If it looks the other way when violence against a woman is perpetrated by one of their own, then no woman in that community can count on police protection.
As an advocate, you may be the only source of support and information for the victim of a police officer. It is your responsibility to learn about police culture, to address the issue of officer-involved domestic violence with local departments, and to search for creative remedies that lessen the victim's vulnerability and risk. Police domestic violence brings us face to face with the challenges inherent in our work. It puts us on notice that we need to reclaim and hold our ground as independent advocates who monitor systems from outside, while attempting to build meaningful partnerships to change the response from within.Back to top
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