Domestic Abuse & Activism

It’s periodically apparent to me that a lot of people have no idea how the police/legal systems deal with domestic abuse, be it spousal or child. I’m saying this as someone who went through the court system multiple times regarding being a victim of child abuse.

People don’t get that going to the cops once doesn’t magically make the abuser powerless or go away or anything like that.

In fact, going to the cops is likely to have the cops dismiss your abuse and then once they leave have the abuser escalate their violence. Male cops are twice as likely to commit dv abuse than the national average – so really you’re calling someone who likely sympathizes with your abuser.

As the National Center for Women and Policing noted in a heavily footnoted information sheet, “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families than American families in general.” Cops “typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim’s safety,” the summary continues. “This ‘informal’ method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes.” Finally, “even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence are unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution.” (via the Atlantic)

Even if the cop means well, there are pretty strict limitations on what they can constitute as abuse for an immediate arrest. I would also point out that there can be racial and class markers for who gets arrested. A black man is persecuted by the police while a white abuser may not face the threat of arrest. Anyone who has read “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be aware of this sort of racial targeting where even an innocent black man make take the blame for a white abuser.

Domestic violence activists, therefore, must also challenge the racism endemic in our criminal justice system. (by Miriam Ruttenberg)

End even if you get a good cop and a good case and the right abuser where it’s going to be taken seriously and taken to court, it’s going to take a long time for the whole thing to be processed and the abuser can still continue to stalk, harass, and threaten you  until then. Especially if you have any sort of shared ‘property’ like a pet or child they’re likely to be targets.

The key result was that victims were 64 percent more likely to have died of all causes if their partners were arrested and jailed than if they were warned and allowed to remain at home. The death rate was much higher among African-American victims than among whites. (via the crime report)

For example in my DFS case, even if you have a good case of abuse and your abuser is supposed to follow a court set program, maybe no one follows up on the case and you’re still stuck with your abuser who now knows that you are trying to leave. so the violence and isolation increases. The court system is designed to return a child to their home, with minimum standards met; I felt in grave danger of being returned to a place a neglect with penalties for trying to leave.

“Actually a survivor leaves an average of 6-8 times and each time she leaves, the violence can often escalate. Women who leave their abuser are at higher risk (75% greater risk) of being killed than those who stay. Either staying or leaving the abusive relationship poses risks to her safety. A survivor that stays in the relationship oftentimes is strategizing the best time and safest time to leave.” (via Building Futures)

Even those abusers who are caught and forced to go to treatment by the police and legal system may not change their vviolent behavior.

One example: There are as many as 2,500 “batterer intervention programs” around the nation. Shawna Andersen of the Massachusetts Parole Board reviewed all the research literature and concluded that there is no evidence that sending an abuser to such treatment is better at preventing future violence than no treatment at all. (via the crime report)

I trust women to protect themselves as best they are able. I do not trust cops to protect women; I expect cops to sympathize with abusers.We need to acknowledge that the current system is set up with the racist policies of the police and the violent goals of the prison industrial complex. Activism regarding domestic abuse – spousal or child – needs to be about providing women safe spaces away from their abusers and the abuser class (men). Women need to trust women’s experiences with abuse to know how to best keep themselves save; women need to open their homes, hearts, and ears to provide support and resources to women who are seeking refuge and support due to domestic violence.

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