Stories of police brutality have become all too common, but what’s often not talked about is the frequency of domestic violence in law enforcement families. The statistics are hard to verify possibly because of low levels of reporting by fearful victims and even lower levels of arrests and prosecution in these cases. Studies by The Advocates for Human Rights organization indicate that law enforcement families are two to four times more likely than the general population to experience domestic abuse. Other studies by Diane Wetendorf, author of Police Domestic Violence: Handbook for Victims, backs up these claims indicating that women suffer domestic abuse in at least 40 percent of law enforcement officer families.
No matter what statistics one believes, what is known with certainty, is that there are added complications for victims disclosing the abuse and accessing help, and there is much less likelihood of legal accountability when the abuser is a cop.
Although the following dynamics happen in civilian homes, Carol Lambert, a licensed clinical social worker, domestic violence expert and author of upcoming book, You’re Not Crazy–He’s Controlling! A Lifeline for Women with Controlling Men, specializes in helping victims of domestic violence by law enforcement and notes some common characteristics of domestic abuse in law enforcement families:
Manipulation – Abusive law enforcement officers are highly skilled at distorting the truth and lying to obtain control. They lie so convincingly to the victims and those around them, they can actually convince people what to believe. This works to impact what the victim thinks and feels and results in confusion and self-doubt. This also works to control the narrative of those around the law enforcement officer including co-workers, family and friends. The manipulation often works to plant seeds of doubt and destroy future credibility of the victim before they disclose abuse.
Intimidation – Law enforcement officers are often masters at bullying and terrorizing. Sometimes they do not even need to raise to the level of physical violence because their coercive tactics such as threats of violence and threats made to hurt the victim’s reputation, financial standing and even work are so convincing. Because law enforcement officers know the system and work within the system – often knowing judges, CPS case workers and advocates – they often make what appears to be credible and convincing threats about taking the children away. They work to create an environment of constant fear, anxiety, and confusion to keep the victim quiet and compliant.
Interrogation – Law enforcement officers are trained interrogators and know the tactics to lie, humiliate and grill the victim into telling what the abuser wants to know. It is used to control the victim, degrade them and erode their self-esteem, all working to keep the victim in the cycle of violence. In some cases, the law enforcement officer has been known to interrogate neighbors as well as friends and family of the victim to find out what the victim has been doing or saying.
Surveillance – It comes with the job and law enforcement officers when compared to civilians are particularly adept at surveillance. This watchful eye over their partner works to cause fear, anxiety and intimidation. The abuser will often run license plates of friends and associates, read emails, check social media accounts, install GPS tracking devices, and go through personal possessions like purses and wallets. It has not been unheard of for the law enforcement officer to lie about the reasons for watching his spouse and trick other officers into reporting what’s happening at the home or with the victim if they cannot conduct the surveillance themselves. Police officers use their professional skills, police equipment, and the mobility of the job to keep their partners under almost constant surveillance.
Cases involving law enforcement officers committing domestic violence are some of the most challenging for everyone involved. The abuser is highly knowledgeable of the system and has access to weapons, interrogation and surveillance techniques and will use psychological manipulation on everyone involved, including a private investigator on the case, to keep the victim controlled and the abuse continuing.
Access to resources are essential when working with any domestic violence victim.
Domestic Violence and Victim Service Resources
National Center for Victims of Crime http://www.victimsofcrime.org/
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards http://www.nacvcb.org/
Women’s Law http://www.womenslaw.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273- 8255