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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

What, then, does the victim want? At the very least, what the victim wants is accomplished as soon as the police show up, if not sooner. The victim simply wants the abuse to stop. Is the physical assault aspect of the pattern for domestic violence an everyday occurrence? Usually not, because in maintaining the desired level of control over the relationship, the abuser may only occasionally feel the need to resort to physical force. The victim is aware of this and once the assault is over, a new chance exists for the victim to correct behavior and possibly avoid any future assault.

A DV victim is dependent on the abuser, socially, emotionally and financially. Any threat to the liberty and financial power of the abuser is viewed by the victim as an equally serious threat to themselves. This is the area which is the principal cause of frustration for police officers: specifically that the adult victim of a DV situation does have the ability to change their circumstances, whereas child victims do not. However, because of the relationship nature of their circumstances, DV victims do not believe they have this ability; they do not recognize themselves a being able to make sufficient changes in their lives to ensure that they are no longer victimized.

In fact, for the above reasons, they may be virtually unable to alter their circumstances. Indeed, there is nothing harder for a person to change than their own perceptions, their own belief system upon which their actions are dependent. And besides, the DV victim is doing nothing wrong, it is the abuser whose behavior is criminal and anit-social, not the behavior of the victim, no matter how much we may not understand or agree with it.

An Officer's Role

Can police officers change the victims of domestic violence? No, they can't. Is it the responsibility of the police to change the victims in the first place? Again, the answer is no. The sole responsibility of the police in the investigation of DV cases is to PROTECT THE VICTIM AND HOLD THE ABUSER ACOUNTABLE.

The only aspect of a DV investigation that police officers have the power to change is their own understanding of the relationship issues.

The solution to the frustrations in dealing with domestic violence situations lies within each of us. If we understand and sympathize with the perceptions and point of view of the victims, we can have more reasonable investigative expectations, and with this increased empathy, we can have better results in obtaining the information we need to do our jobs. The fact is: What we are expected to do in domestic violence situations is hard enough.

The only one we can change is ourselves. We must remember that remaining professionally objective is necessary in order to maintain our emotional resources, not only in dealing with incidents of domestic violence, but in all aspects of police work.

Sgt. Magnotti has been with the Wenatchee Police Department since 1986. Prior to making sergeant in 1992, he worked as a patrol officer, sex crimes investigator, patrol supervisor and public affairs officer. He presently supervises the street crime unit and holds a master's degree in Leadership Studies. This is his first contribution to POLICE.

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