Getting Help

How You Tell Your Story

Once you decide to ask for help, you will have to explain your situation to others, even if you go to a Family Justice Center. They may include your friends and family, co-workers, supervisors, internal affairs investigators, community advocates, shelter workers, attorneys, psychological evaluators, prosecutors, and judges. If there are divorce and custody issues involved, child psychologists and custody evaluators, the children's attorney, and child protective services will become involved.

Not all professionals are familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence, and few understand the many facets of police-perpetrated domestic violence.

Each person will focus on a different aspect of your case, and each will have a different power over your life and that of your children. You need their help. You only have a short time to make them understand a lifetime of abuse. You have to decide when and how to tell them your story. And you have to relate the facts in a way that makes people listen to you.

As difficult as it is, it is extremely important that you do your best to maintain your composure. Remain as calm as you can so that people don't dismiss you as a "hysterical woman." Women often understate the severity of violence and abuse, even when talking to friends, family or counselors. Understatements are even more likely when speaking to an intimidating authority figure such as a police chief, investigator, or prosecutor.

It is extremely important that you describe each incident accurately, in detail, and in your own words. It is to your benefit to be able to tell your story clearly and graphically.

Consider the following contrasting descriptions of the same event:

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Abuser's Preemptive Strategies

Your abuser already knows how to present his version of the story. He knows how to turn the facts around so that he gets sympathy. If the abuser senses that you are going to tell someone about the abuse, he is likely to take preemptive action. Fellow officers may be sympathetic. Many judges believe that if a male claims to be a victim of abuse it must be true; they feel it would be too humiliating and embarrassing for a man — especially a police officer — to claim to be a victim unless it was true.

You know that your abuser has the power to threaten or destroy your family and career. He could do this by making false reports against you. He could allege that you threatened him with a weapon during an argument. If you are also an officer, he could maneuver you into drawing your weapon in self-defense. He can contact your friends, family, any professionals helping you and convince them that he is the "real" victim. His fellow officers may agree to harass and intimidate you or family members.

If you have been in a secret same-sex relationship, your abuser has probably threatened to out you. Coming out on your own to your friends and family will take away one of his/her most powerful weapons but it may have repercussions. If you are married or have children, disclosing your sexual orientation may affect a divorce or custody action. If you are a lesbian, your abuser may have already contacted resources in the women's community in an effort to turn them against you. She may have called your local domestic violence agency and claimed that she is the victim to prevent you from receiving victim services.

Confronting Stereotypes

No matter how well you tell your story, people will still have their own opinions about who you are, what you did or didn't do: "Why don't you just leave? What's wrong with you? Why won't you listen to us?" It doesn't matter whether they are family, friends, or professionals. It hurts. It makes you angry. They act like they know what's best for you. They treat you like a child. You feel frustrated and alone.

A lot of people think they know what a "battered woman" looks and acts like. They will believe you only if you match their stereotype. You must be visibly injured, scared, and passive. If you insist on making your own decisions based on your own experience — knowing you are the expert in your own life — they may question your credibility. If you express your anger or frustration or assert your will, you are not living up to their image of a victim. They may tell you to calm down or even refuse to listen to you until you act "appropriately." They may call you a jealous bitch who is just out to make trouble. They may treat you as the abuser if you fought back in self-defense and were arrested.

They may feel compelled to take control and make decisions for you because they don't think you are capable of thinking clearly or acting in your own best interest. They may throw around terms like battered woman's syndrome, parental alienation, or learned helplessness. They may ask you what you did to make him abuse you. They may instruct you to pray and seek his forgiveness. They expect you to listen and act on their advice, to trust in their power to protect you, and to believe that they know what's best for you.

Chances are you will have to educate your friends, family, and many professionals in the dynamics of officer-involved domestic abuse. They may understand family violence in general terms, but they probably have no idea how unique and complex your situation is. Regretably, it is up to you to educate not only those dear to you, but also the advocates and other providers with whom you will be working. We have the resources, books, and information you need.

If you are in Law Enforcement

Your co-workers will react in many different ways when they learn you are a victim of abuse. If your abuser is a civilian, fellow officers are apt to support you and do everything they can to protect you. But if your abuser is in the military, a firefighter, or another officer, it's a different story. Some will resent your bringing your personal problems to the job. Many will refuse to take sides because they work with both of you. Some will believe the abuser's story over yours; others will be angry with you for betraying one of your own by reporting the abuse.

They may underestimate the lethality of your situation because you and your partner have been trained to maintain control in all situations. If you're both female, people may believe that you and your abuser are equals; responding officers and others may consider you to be mutual combatants.

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As a victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than other domestic violence victims.

Our books are available through:

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Victim Handbook
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Hijacked by the Right
Crossing the Threshold
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Hijacked by the Right
Crossing the Threshold
Victim Handbook by Diane Wetendorf