WESTBOROUGH, MA June 6, 2018 A case of domestic violence unfolded on Memorial Day weekend in Volusia County, Florida when a female victim was being held by her live-in boyfriend. The note implores staff members of the DeLand Animal Hospital to call police because her partner was threatening her and had a gun. These kinds of desperate measures occur occasionally and are dramatic and newsworthy. The staff at the DeLand Animal Hospital are to be commended. But there are intimate partners everywhere who live in fear just as the indomitable victim who passed this note had been living.
“From coast to coast LEO’s are caught in this moth eaten, patchwork system that lacks resources for both the mentally ill and those addicted to alcohol and drugs.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D. 2018
As the story goes, her boyfriend had beaten her and was refusing to allow her to leave the couple’s home. To her credit (perhaps life saving) she convinced the man that she needed to bring the dog to the veterinarian. He agreed but would not allow her to go without him. Upon arrival this note was passed to a member of the hospital staff who knew just what to do. The man is now behind bars being held without bail – manning his defense.
There is a consensus among experts in domestic violence that victims are abused multiple times – often threatened with death – before they call police for help.
As a society, more needs to be done to fill-in the holes in the system designed to keep families safe. Safety plans and orders of protection are not enough. From coast to coast LEO’s are caught in this moth eaten, patchwork system that lacks resources for both the mentally ill and those addicted to alcohol and drugs. The holes in the system allow for violence prone individuals to allude police and coerce victims into silence. But every once in a while, a silent victim writes a life saving note and gives it to the right person.
Domestic violence happens in family systems that are secretive, chaotic, and dysfunctional. This lifestyle pushes them into the margins of society – often detached from the communities in which they live.
The abusive spouse makes his efforts known within the system by his barbaric authoritarian demands. He keeps his spouse isolated as a way of controlling and manipulating whatever truth exists among these disparate family members. The consequence of this isolation leaves women without a sense of “self” – alone an emotional orphan vulnerable to his threat of abandonment and annihilation.
Successful intervention for these families must slowly bring them back from the margins into the social milieu. Arguably, the resistance to this is so intense that the violent spouse will pull up stakes and move his family at the first sign of public scrutiny.
Police officers are regarded as the front line first responders to family conflict and DV. For better or worse, the police have an opportunity to effect change whenever they enter into the domestic foray. This affords them a window into the chaos and the opportunity to bring calm to crisis. In many cases, the correct response to intimate partner violence should include aftermath intervention when the dust has settled from the crisis that brought police to this threshold. When this is done it establishes a baseline of trust, empathy, and resilience.
Community policing has long espoused the partnership between police and citizens. The positive benefits to this create bridges between the two that may benefit officers at times of need – including the de facto extra set of eyes when serious crimes are reported. But the model goes two ways and requires that police return to their calls and establish protocols for defusing future events meanwhile processing and understanding the current actions of recent police encounters. When done effectively the most difficult families may be kept off the police radar screens for longer periods of time that can be a good thing when it comes to manpower deployment and officer safety.