But women are not the only victims of domestic violence. So are their children. According to the Council Against Domestic Abuse (CADA), it is estimated that one-half of the "men who beat their partners also abuse their children." Moreover, children form an abusive environment "are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of abuse" themselves.
According to CADA, even if children are not themselves physically or verbally assaulted, they could learn that such assaultive behavior is a "way of life" and may repeat the violence.
What Can the Police Do To Help?
Estrella, who both teaches and rides with officers on patrol, says there are many things that the police can do to help battered women and their families, three of which are:
1. Believe the victim. It is understandable for police officers to questions the veracity of a victim who claims to have been assaulted by her spouse or boyfriend and then becomes the first in line to defend him from the police or even post his bail. But such conduct is completely consistent with the behavior of a battered woman. She no doubt realizes that her abuser will eventually be released and what better way, in her mind, to reduce the severity of the next assault than by coming to his aid?
2. Be personally aware of the resources that exist in the community. One of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge about the many resources that exist for battered women would be to call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE. This is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline which has up-to-date information on the resources for battered women in your area. These resources can range from a listing of shelters for battered women and their children, pet shelters, legal resources, and possibly even the finds for relocation.
Estrella highly recommends that police officers carry around color photographs of shelter rooms, this dispelling any concerns that the shelter is not a livable location.
3. Encourage the victim to call the police when she needs assistance. Battered women often feel shame or embarrassment for "bothering the police," particularly if they have dropped charges against the abuser in the past. A battered woman needs to hear from the police that they are concerned for her and her children's safety, that it is no bother. If officers suspect that the children are also being abused, child protective services should be contacted immediately.
Estrella encourages officers to explain the cycle of violence to the victim and how the abuse will only get worse. She recalled a case where the police had made multiple calls to one location, leaving their card and information concerning domestic violence intervention each time. Eventually, those police cards began to stack up and it was their physical presence that ultimately led to the victim's call for help and her leaving an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence is a crime like any other crime of violence, it is just more complex because it involves intimates instead of strangers. Police officers have played a significant role in breaking the cycle of violence and can help tremendously in the future. For additional information and assistance, police officers are encouraged to call (800) 799-SAFE. Ms. Estrella would be glad to answer any of your questions. She can be contacted by telephone or e-mail her through her agency's Website at www.womensshelter.org.
Editor's Note: Due to space limitations, we were unable to reprint all of the author's references. Interested readers can access the references relating to the battered woman syndrome (BWS) by e-mailing the author or consulting a derivative article which concerns the battered woman syndrome and its applicability to the laws of evidence: Stephen J. Ziegler, Applying 804(b)(3) and the battered woman syndrome to domestic violence cases: Is the jury the only one that needs to be educated? , Court Review, 33:15-23 (1996). The author's e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Ziegler was a police officer for 11 years before becoming an attorney. He is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program in political science at Washington State University. He is an occasional contributor to POLICE.