10 domestic violence myths police need to know

Police officers can develop tunnel vision on domestic violence calls that can lead to serious injury or death for both the victim and the officer


Some of the most intense moments in any police officer’s career occur during domestic violence calls. It is important to remember that by responding to these calls with extreme caution and choosing to investigate them thoroughly, police officers engage in proactive homicide prevention.

To help you in this effort, here are some common myths about domestic violence that can create dangerous tunnel vision for officers and impact situational awareness during response to and investigation of domestic violence cases.

myth 1: Domestic violence only happens to poor people.

An investigator heads to the scene of a deadly domestic disturbance Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
An investigator heads to the scene of a deadly domestic disturbance Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Fact: Domestic violence cuts across economic lines and occurs in homes across the economic spectrum. For example, the singer Rihanna was beaten by her singer boyfriend Chris Brown (both millionaire entertainers) while they traveled in a car to an award ceremony where Rihanna was about to be honored.

myth 2: Alcohol is the real instigator of domestic violence.

Fact: It is true that alcohol is involved in many violent domestic calls police officers are called to. However, most abusers intimidate, control and physically abuse their victims regardless of whether the abuser is drunk or sober.

myth 3: Domestic violence victims must like “it” since they seem drawn to abusers.

Fact: Abusers have an ability to wear a mask that hides their nature from friends, family and sometimes even themselves. Victims are drawn in by the charm of these individuals then captured by the terror when they discover their Prince or Princess Charming has a dark side. The truth is victims are not drawn to abusers. Abusers are drawn to people who will make good victims.

myth 4: Victims provoke beatings as “they know how to push buttons.”

Fact: Most domestic violence victims spend their lives walking on eggshells trying not to do anything to set off their abuser. This is especially the case when they sense that tension is building within the abuser. In one case, the family knew when it was going to be a bad night by the way the abuser slammed the car door upon returning home. On these occasions, even the family dog would run and hide behind the couch for the duration of the evening.

myth 5: Battered victims can just leave.

Fact: The deaths attributed to domestic violence are often a result of the victim attempting to leave. Victims are told by their abuser, “If you ever try to leave and take my kids from me, I will kill you.” These abusers control so many aspects of the victim’s life, that victims are almost tethered to these master manipulators – emotionally, financially and, in extreme cases, physically – requiring many unsuccessful attempts before a victim can break free, if ever.

myth 6; Battered victims are uneducated and have few job skills.

Fact: Some victims are indeed unemployed and hold minimum wage jobs, with no high school diploma, but others have PhDs. There are victims and abusers within all professions, sadly even within law enforcement.

myth 7; Only women are victims of domestic violence.

Fact: Every person in a violent household is impacted to some degree by what they see, hear and feel, because they know at any given moment they too may become the target of this unreasonable rage. Their fears are not unreasonable. It is not so uncommon for officers to arrive at scenes where the entire family is killed by an offender.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics indicate that not only do one out of three women consider themselves survivors of “relationship violence,” but also one out of four men in this country report themselves to be victims of such violence. Clearly in most violent domestic calls the man is the abuser, but there are cases of abusive females, as well.

This misconception also ignores the many police officers who have become victims responding to domestic violence calls.

myth 8: Boys who witness domestic abuse are destined to be abusers.

Fact: Every person shapes their own destiny and the decisions they make. It is not uncommon for children of abusers to deliberately choose to strive to create a safe environment for their own children. Some of us have even become police officers, using our hard-earned personal insights to better protect the victims we serve.

myth 9: The person injured is probably the victim.

Fact: Going into an investigation it is important to realize that defense wounds are often inflicted by a victim on an attacker. These can range in severity from superficial scratches to a fatal wound. No call poses more opportunities to mistakenly arrest the victim rather than the perpetrator than domestic violence calls.

myth 10: Police officers can’t make a difference.

Fact: The way you respond and investigate a domestic violence call can make the difference between life or death to a family, or even you and your fellow officers. Practice the three Cs during a domestic violence investigation:

  • Cautious on the approach, during the investigation, throughout the contact, the follow-through and follow-up.
  • Complete and thorough, during your investigation.
  • Caring throughout the contact. This will impact positively, not only the victim, but any children who are watching. Your caring demeanor or the appearance or the absence of it, will be noticed and remembered by them for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

Police officers not only find themselves in the peacekeeper role in these cases, but they are often the lead investigating officer in a position to arrest a dangerous repeat felony offender, thus serving to prevent future violence.   

By being cautious, complete and caring you will save lives. Here is one last fact: In doing so the life you save may be your own.

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