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Domestic violence affects every social class, race, and ethnicity worldwide. As a law enforcement officer, responding to domestic violence calls can be extremely challenging, due to their unpredictable nature. But there are steps a victim can take during a domestic violence situation that can help the officers responding protect and help her in the best way possible.
The first and most important step to obtaining help to escape domestic violence is notifying the authorities. This can come in many ways. For example, in one of my own cases, the victim texted her uncle to call police because her boyfriend assaulted her and refused to allow her to make any phone calls. This approach worked well for the victim, as well as for myself and other first responders. If the victim can make a 911 call, I would suggest creating distance from the abuser, whether that means going to a different room, taking a walk, etc. If for whatever reason, the victim cannot make a phone call or send a text message to a friend or family member, going to the local police station to report abuse is just as effective.
The second step in making sure the victim gets the help she needs is to give a full detailed account of what happened to the responding officer(s). I understand how hard this can be, being that the victim may have just been assaulted, but every bit of information can be vital to the outcome of the case. The victim may need a few minutes to calm her nerves. If that is the case, she should let the officer taking the report know she needs some time before speaking. Along with giving the police a full account, it is also important to not leave anything out regarding the assault. For instance, in the state of Pennsylvania, if the victim of a domestic violence incident is choked by her intimate partner, there is automatically a felonious charge added against the abuser. If the victim was strangled during the altercation, and she decides to not disclose that with the officer, he or she may not know to add this charge. The more an officer knows, the more he or she can help.
The third step is to ensure the victim’s safety. If medics are not already on scene with the police, and the victim is hurt, they need to let the officers know. Keep all medical records and take personal photos of all injuries because they may be asked for in court. An effective measure for victims to stay safe is Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders, or restraining orders. It’s easy to feel like they are only sheets of papers, but they give full arrest powers to police officers if the abuser tries to come into contact with the victim in the slightest way. Also, most departments require their officers to provide domestic violence victims with pamphlets filled with information on how to get in contact with victim advocates, abuse shelters, and other ways to stay safe. Providing this information to the victim is a priority for law enforcement because the victim is in a vulnerable situation.
The fourth step is to follow through with the court process by the victim testifying against her abuser. The victim may have a victim advocate present if she fears facing the abuser alone. In a short time after the report is filed with the police, the victim will receive a court date. It is crucial that the victim attends and gives the same detailed account to the judge that was given to the officer at the time of the abuse. In my own professional experience, I have seen my own domestic violence cases dismissed due to the victim either not showing up for three consecutive court dates or testifying and telling the judge a different account of events, resulting in all charges being dropped.
Testifying against the abuser may be one of the hardest things to go through in life. In between the time of attack and the first court date, the abuser may try contacting the victim to apologize for what he has done. If the victim decides against having a PFA or restraining order in place, I would strongly advise the victim to have little to no contact with the abuser. The victim may have kids with the abuser. If contact is necessary, I would suggest having a third party present.
Abuse from an intimate partner is devastating and can be unexpected. Victims deserve to know that they do not have to endure a life of abuse. Following all these steps is the best way to ensure victim safety with the help of law enforcement.
By Tim Bailey