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Understanding Domestic Violence

The solution to frustrations in dealing with these situations rests within each officer's empathy with perceptions and points of view of the victims.

October 01, 1999  |  by Mike Magnotti

For police officers, handling domestic violence calls can be one of the most frustrating areas of law enforcement work. This frustration is not because cops don't know what to do; they do indeed know the WHAT of handling domestic violence cases.

The frustration coming from trying to deal with the overall dynamics of domestic violence (DV) cases: why victims remain in destructive relationships, why victims show such hesitation at having their abuser punished.

Officers need, therefore, a better grip on their understanding of the WHY of domestic violence incidents.

Officers first need to understand that these frustrations will not go away. The secret to reducing them to a tolerable level involves changing only their own way of regarding DV incidents. By re-adjusting their perspective on DV issues, cops can better understand these incidents and develop more reasonable expectations on how DV cases should work out, as well as obtain better overall investigative results.

To take a look at how to re-adjust perspectives, we need only examine how we perceive other crimes, the re-apply that understanding to DV incidents.

By looking at the crime of the sexual abuse of children and taking an honest look at our perceptions of these incidents, we can increase our understanding of the nature of crime in general, and of DV incidents in specific.

Relationships and Crime

To begin, let's look at an example. When I was a public affairs officer, I was often asked to address adults and children on the topic of, "stranger danger." Parent groups and schools are very interested in learning how to protect children from being abducted by strangers. For the general public, as well as police officers, the fear of strangers is a very predominating theme in child safety.

But think about how many cases you have worked on, or that your agency has been involved with, where children have been kidnapped by strangers.

You'll be able to remember a few cases only, if any. Also, try to recall if you know anyone, or have ever met someone who was a victim of a stranger abduction. The chances are, you never have. Despite the general perceptions regarding "stranger danger," the abduction of a child by a stranger is in actuality, a very rare occurrence.

Now consider the number of cases you have worked on personally, or that your agency has handled, in which a child was sexually assaulted by a member of their immediate family or extended family. The numbers will be much greater. As terrible as it is to realize, the true dangers to our children do not come from strangers, but conversely, children's risks come from those they know and probably trust. This is the point of my example, that CRIME IS VERY OFTEN BASED ON RELATIONSHIPS, and the closer the relationship, the greater the potential for a more heinous crime.

While this phenomenon of relationships is not uncommon in other areas of criminal activity, nowhere is it more relevant than in the crimes of sexual assaults against children. And if we want success in our investigations of these cases, we need a basic understanding of the victim's perspective of the relationship.

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