The Police Impact on Domestic Violence May 3, 2010 19:04:49 GMT -5
Post by Erica Chan on May 3, 2010 19:04:49 GMT -5
The Police Impact on Domestic Violence
Written by penname 'Eyes Wide Open' on the blog Socyberty. Find the original blog post here.
Police play a vital role in domestic violence. An overview of how domestic violence has been treated by police over the years and its impact on women.
Police play a vital role in domestic violence. This is true because police are often the first contact when women report an incident of domestic abuse. How police respond is crucial in assisting women in abusive relationships. It is important to realize that the criminal justice system is predominately dominated by men, and the offenders are also normally men, while the victims are often women. The significance of these gendered divisions is that the criminal justice system has largely been based on a system of patriarchal beliefs, and the abusive actions by men also reflect the patriarchal society in which we live. In order to understand the police response to domestic abuse over the last few decades, it is important to first understand the history and importance of domestic abuse.
Domestic violence against women is very much prevalent in today’s society. It is a fact that women’s greatest risk of assault is from their intimate partners. Women are more likely to be injured, attacked, raped or killed by a current or former intimate partner than by anyone else (Brown 1994, 41). Domestic violence is often referred to as “spouse abuse”, however a term such as this, “…obscures the gendered nature of abuse. The focus becomes criminal activity between spouses rather than the systemic, gender-related aspect of women’s experience”(Minaker 2001, 103).
In this paper, I refer to the term domestic violence or domestic abuse, however what I am specifically referring to is really domestic violence against women, because this more accurately reflects the problem of systemic violence against women in intimate relationships. Domestic violence against women can be defined as, “any physical, psychological, or emotional abuse by an intimate against his female partner, regardless of whether she is a wife, ex-wife, girlfriend or friend” (Daniels 1997, 23). Domestic does not only refer to violence that occurs within the home, but any violence that occurs in a relationship between two people (Daniels 1997, 23).
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Some of the history surrounding the abuse of women begins with the English Common Law that stated it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife with a whip or stick as long as it was no bigger than the width of his thumb. Historically, man’s power and domination over his wife was legitimized. This enabled men to use violence and threats of violence to control her, as women at that time were seen as the property of their husbands (Brown 1994, 14) and were not even considered a “person” under the law until the suffragette movement in the early twentieth century (Hick 2002, 150). Women were considered mentally and even morally inferior to men (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, 3), and this view persisted among men for years, and continues among many men today.
In the early 1970’s, many women’s movements aimed at eliminating violence against women were formed. Women were becoming more aware of domestic assault, and how common it was among other women. The battered women’s movement helped initiate changes in public policy responses to violence against women, including that of domestic (Brown 1994, 102). Women also advocated for this abuse to be recognized by the criminal justice system as a crime. However, despite these efforts from women’s movements, violence against women remained high (Brown 1994, 104). When examining violence against women, including that within the home, we must examine the power inequalities between men and women. “A variety of scholars have suggested that violence functions as a mechanism of social control of women and serves to reproduce and maintain the status quo of male dominance and female subordination” (Brown 1994, 6). Gender-related roles are learned and transmitted from generation to generation within society, and much of this role expectation that a woman should be subordinate to her husband transpires in the home (Brown 1994, 7).
Since the commencement of many movements on behalf of violence against women, domestic violence has continued to be a common occurrence in many homes. According to research, approximately 34% of Canadian women have been the victim of domestic assault (Larkin & McKenna 2002, 41). Often, domestic violence escalates to much more serious actions, including murder. From 1974 to 1992, a married woman was nine times more likely to be murdered by her partner than by a complete stranger (Hick 2002, 151). This number does not account for those who were not married and were killed by their partner. It is estimated that in Ontario alone, that out of 1206 women that were killed between 1974 and 1994, that 76% were killed by an intimate (or former) partner (Larkin & McKenna 2002, 127).
Many women have tried to flee abusive relationships, although even when women are successful at separating from their abusive partner, many of these men refuse to allow these women to move on with their lives. These men feel they need to continue to maintain control of these women, just as they had through violence in their relationship, and will stalk these women. Stalking can include such things as repeated unwanted calling, verbal or written threats, following the victim, etc…. This behavior causes women to become very fearful, and limits their daily participation in life (Atwell 2002, 83). However, often stalking escalates into dangerous and violent behavior (Feder 1999, 33). Statistics show that over one million women in the United States over 18 years of age are stalked by men annually (Atwell 2002, 83). Women are in fact most at risk to severe violence and murder by their partners immediately following their separation from the abusive partner (Hick 2002, 151), when their partner feels like they are losing control the most.
Throughout the years, women have continually advocated for domestic violence against women to be taken seriously, and treated as a crime. For many years, domestic violence was not regarded as a crime because it was considered a more “private” matter, and since men were the “kings of their castles”, men, including the criminal justice system, felt that what he did within his home was his own business. Of course being that the majority of the police officers were men, they supported this notion, and in the early years of domestic assault being considered a crime, many police did little to enforce this law.
In the 1970’s many police departments did not make any arrests once arrived at a domestic abuse call. Some of the reasoning behind this was that they thought it might “aggravate a dispute” or that intervening in the “private” matter may put the police at danger (and yet the woman was supposed to remain safe?). If the assaulted woman demanded the arrest, police reminded her of all the negative consequences of doing such were: loss of wages; cost of bail; and court appearances. Police instead attempted to “smooth things over”. The general belief that in a situation of domestic violence, no crime was committed (Atwell 2002, 75).
Mandatory arrest policies came into effect in Canada in the1980’s, which stipulated that an arrest must be made in domestic violence cases if there was reasonable and probable cause (Hick 2002, 150). These policies were effective in that it left less room for a police officer’s prejudice or sexist views to guide his arrest making decisions, although police still had to be satisfied that an assault had been committed. Prior to 1983, in order for the abuser to be charged with assault, there had to be either a witness to the assault or obvious physical injuries. Despite such changes, some officers and departments still believe batterers should not be arrested unless the assault occurs in front of officers (Blackwell & Vaughn 2003). This requirement is outrageous, since most assaults within the home are not likely to occur in front of anyone else, let alone the police. Some police officers view mandatory arrest policies with regard to domestic abuse as distractions from “real” police work (Steinman 1991, 9).
Police attitudes towards women and domestic assault determine the extent of their action in these situations (Brown 1994, 105). Police were still left with some room for their own judgment as to what “reasonable and probable cause” was. For example, chances of an arrest being made in a domestic violence case were much higher or might even depend on whether the perpetrator disrespected or challenged police authority (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, Xvi). This is more a matter of pride for the police officers, than concern for the welfare of the abused woman.
Personal feelings of the police officer also determined whether an arrest would be made in a domestic assault. A self-report survey was done with police officers out of Palm Beach in the United States in 1992. These officers were asked to indicate whether they would make an arrest upon call to domestic violence in various situations. Out of 266 police officers, just under half of the police officers would not make an arrest if the assault was a result of the victim disobeying her partner; the man being laid off from his job; the victim “nagged” her partner incessantly; her partner learned of the victim’s infidelity; or because she insulted her partner in front of his friends (Feder 1999, 57).
It is obvious that police officers were not taking domestic violence very seriously, and they themselves were contributing to the problem. Even in 1994 criminal justice personal, including police officers, continued to view physical assault by men against intimate partners as less serious than other types of assault (Brown 1994, 105). Although the irony is that 50% of domestic assaults cause as much, if not more physical injury than 90% of all other rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies (Brown 1994, 105).
Some reasons why police do enforce arrest policies are due to their own self-interest, as oppose of wanting to protect women from abuse. This self-interest reflects such things as wanting a larger caseload to justify a budget request, or to look good in the public eye, or to protect themselves from liability claims in law suits in failure to arrest (Steinman 1991, 9).
Failing to recognize a domestic assault or charge the offender can lead to serious consequences. The lives of women can rest in the hands of police officers, and how policies are interpreted. One author suggests that there is little to be gained from police intervention and that it is unreasonable to hold police accountable for something that is unpredictable, and unpreventable (Steinman 1991, 92). I contest this opinion. Research shows that “domestic violence is rarely an isolated event; once a woman is victimized, she faces a high risk of being victimized again” (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, 60). Studies also show that arrest alone has a deterrent affect on domestic violence (Daniels 1997, 43).
A study done in Milwaukee attempted to show a relationship between the reports or records of domestic violence and the homicide of those victims by the abusers. This study showed that out of 33 domestic homicides, those who were murdered showed very few if any calls to the police before the murder by their husband (Steinman 1991, 85). While it is acknowledged that the estimates for the study are unstable, as it was done with a small study group, it still reports these findings as being statistically significant. However I do feel that an important fact is not mentioned or considered when discussing these findings, which is that many women being abused do not call for police until the abuse has occurred on average of 35 times first (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, 113). This could possibly mean that the women who were being abused perhaps had not yet called police about the abuse before they were killed. Unfortunately, it is difficult for police to predict these homicides or prevent them from taking place without records of repeated abuse. At the same time, police may have contributed to this. It has been the habit of many police officers to fail to report many calls they receive about abuse. These women could have called, but police failed to record them, therefore repeated abuse or murder would have been more difficult to predict.
How dispatchers respond to calls from 911 are also a factor in how police respond to domestic violence. Research indicated that 911 calls categorized as simple assaults received a low priority for police response (in which many domestic assault calls are classified). Such low-priority calls typically lead dispatchers to wait for officer availability, or to encourage callers to contact social service agencies for assistance (Blackwell & Vaughn 2003). The following cases are some examples of how police have responded to calls of domestic violence:
“Maria Navarro was celebrating her birthday at her home when she received a call from the brother of her estranged husband, Raymond, warning her that Raymond was on his way to her house to kill her and any others present. Maria immediately called 911 and told the operator about the warning and that she took it seriously. Learning Raymond had not yet arrived, the operator replied, “OK, well, the only thing to do is just call us if he comes over there… I mean, what can we do? We can”t have a unit sit there to wait and see if he comes over’. Fifteen minutes later, Raymond arrived at Maria’s house and shot and killed her and four others” (Blackwell & Vaughn 2003, 134).
“Annie Williams was repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by her husband, David Long, during their marriage and subsequent divorce. Over the course of eighteen months, Annie called 911 several times to “report incidents and/or threats of actual physical violence” by David, but David was never arrested. As part of the divorce, Annie got two restraining orders prohibiting contact, but the abuse continued. Police “refused to pursue an investigation and [incorrectly] informed [Annie] that a felony warrant could not be issued because she had not sustained actual physical injury”” (Blackwell & Vaughn 2003, 135). David later shot and killed Annie.
Recent changes in arrest policies with regard to domestic violence have taken a gender- neutral type of approach. This approach directs police officers to arrest and possibly charge both the man and woman if they participated in violence. This approach is obviously one that does not recognize the fact that many women in these situations may have merely been trying to defend themselves from their abusive partners, and implies that she is equally responsible in the assault.
Self-defence also becomes an issue when it can lead to the abusive partner’s death. Many women have tried to escape violence by calling the police, seeking protection, obtain a new residence and job, however the abusive man may still be successful in tracking her down. In situations such as these, or situations which in order for a woman to escape further violence, she may fight back in self-defense. As a result of this, many women who were acting in self-defense were charged with murder and sentenced to prison (Steinman 1991, 124). It appears the choice for some women then is to go to prison or die.
Many police officers lack the education and awareness of domestic violence and do not understand the cycle of abuse. Many police officers believe that women chose to remain in abusive relationships, feel that abused women are somewhat to blame for selecting an abusive partner, and believe that they are free to leave without recourse (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, 31). A strong influence over police officers’ decisions surrounding making an arrest can often depend on how likely they feel the charges will be followed through with. Often if their actions of making an arrest are not receiving the support of the rest of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions not being followed through, many officers feel that the arrest is pointless and a waste of their time. (Steinman 1991, 98). Studies show that women often do not follow through with charges because of such things as intimidation, threats, and retaliation by the abuser who they end up having to continue living with during the prosecution process. Other factors are some women’s ignorance of the criminal justice system, continued attachment to the abuser, and delays and inconvenience in waiting for trial (Steinman 1991, 98). It would be very beneficial for police officers to look at these factors when responding to a domestic assault, and policies and procedures should reflect these factors.
Often the effectiveness of police response and involvement in domestic violence is questioned (with good reason). There are a number of goals that can be used for measuring the effectiveness of arresting batterers and police response: providing for the safety of battered women and children; ending the violence; holding the abuser accountable; challenging the batterer’s belief in controlling his partner and restoring the battered woman to a decent life (medical care, community resources, etc…) (Atwell 2002, 78). If women feel that police respond effectively to domestic violence, they are more likely to contact the police again if another incidence of violence occurs (Daniels 1997, 45). This can result in increasing the protection of these women, giving more women the opportunity to leave abusive relationships, and lessening the chances of further assault, or an escalation to murder.
Many feminists realize that police often exercise their power in ways that reinforce the disadvantages already experienced by women. Since the police force is largely composed of men, feminists also question whether police will truly cooperate in carrying out a policy aimed at reducing the power that men exercise over women (Daniels 1997, 36). “Merely exhorting cops to follow written policies will not be enough; nor will perfunctory training sessions work. Police administrators need to put teeth into both compliance and educational programs. Officers have to be disciplined for failures to respond; training programs must be serious and deviations from the practices taught have to be punished (Steinman 1991, 197). Many feminists also believe that “…until law enforcement agencies are accountable to women and the community at large, and until they respond to the priorities set by the people instead of by themselves, we cannot rely on the criminal justice system to end violence against women” (Daniels 1997, 47). The criminal justice system needs to incorporate a feminist perspective on battering. “A feminist view of battering is one based on an understanding of battering as a structural problem in which it is women, primarily, being abused by men” (Buzawa & Buzawa 1992, 22).
While, as noted above, arrest does act as a deterrent from further abuse, the law cannot be the only target for ending violence against women. The law is reactive instead of pro-active for the most part, and it is only after the crime is committed, and women are abused and lives are lost that it comes into play. Where domestic violence is concerned, “…long term progress will only come when we treat the causes rather than their symptoms” (Steinman 1991, 68).
In addition to the criminal justice system, some suggestions by feminists in helping to end violence against women is to “…increase women’s economic self-sufficiency, learning and teaching self-defense, and developing “ways to institutionalize community censure of violence against women”” (Daniels 1997, 47). Women have a greater chance of being able to leave abusive relationships when they have the opportunity for job training, child care, affordable housing, and legal assistance (Daniels 1997, 92). Women’s shelters, advocacy, emergency hot lines, counselling, support groups, special community treatments programs are a few of many other services offered in support to abused women (Steinman 1991, 120).
In conclusion, the police response to domestic violence throughout the years has not been adequate. Patriarchal beliefs have guided police officers’ treatment of domestic abuse, and while response has improved, some of these views persist. Due to poor response to domestic violence, many women’s lives have been lost needlessly. When women call police, it is a cry for help, and police officers could be using this as a chance to reach out to these women and provide them with the resources that will help them leave abusive relationships. It is clear that if we want police to be more effective in their response to domestic violence, a feminist model needs to be applied, police have to form a partnership with the community and its resources, they require further training, and there needs to be a breakdown of their patriarchal beliefs.