You contributed to an article written by Joe Gamm and published 7 September in the News & Record on the uptick of homicides related to Domestic Violence: “Domestic violence-related deaths on rise in Greensboro“. I reacted with disbelief to many of the quotes attributed to you. I’ve outlined them below with my response, speaking as a survivor of Domestic Violence.
Comments on the article you contributed to are disabled. This world is full of people who believe victims deserve abuse, and perpetuating that by opening comments doesn’t help the matter, and so I am glad the comments are closed. I wouldn’t have wasted my breath leaving a comment. I would have more than likely been attacked for defending victims. Instead, I am addressing this letter directly to you, Detective Mitchell. I hope to shed some light on the crimes you are charged with responding to and investigating, for you and for society.
I’m going to take this quote by quote.
“A lot of times, there’s no warning,” said police Detective Ben Mitchell.
There is warning, it’s just those warnings are ignored. People turn a blind eye to black eyes and bruises, and those people include the police.
Very rarely is there no warning. I say very rarely because there is often no warning the first time a perpetrator attacks a victim. Sure, there are warning signs, red flags they are called, but those red flags aren’t generally recognizable until after the first punch is thrown. The jealousy, the screaming, the control, those things are red flags, warning signs, but until their pattern is recognized, they are pieces of behavior that just don’t make sense. And calling the police because someone is jealous or screaming doesn’t usually result in a response for Domestic Violence. More than one of us have heard “one person’s emotional abuse is another person’s bad day; call us when he hits you.”
Calling the police is also extremely dangerous for a victim of abuse. Think about this: if a perpetrator was willing to punch a victim for burning toast, what is he willing to do should that same victim call the police?
By the time the abuse has escalated to murder, there has been warning. The second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time a victim is abused, there was warning, and that warning was each and every time it occurred prior. And more often than not, at least one of those attacks has resulted in a call to police.
Mitchell, a member of the Family Victims Unit, said there are also places where the unit receives “calls for service after calls for service after calls for service.”
Let me clear something up for you. Each and every time a victim calls the police they believe that will be the day they finally stand up for themselves, stand up against the abuse, stand up and speak out. Calls are made to report abuse, and many times by the time the police arrive the victim has been threatened or coerced into refusing to press charges, and in that time fear of the abuser settles back where bravery tried to take hold. Fear has taken over the adrenaline that led to the call, and so the victim asserts the violence didn’t happen, wasn’t that bad, won’t happen again, was provoked, etc. And so the police, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and society-in-general blame the victim for not talking or talking but not pressing charges, and the victim-blaming circle is repeated.
Calls for service don’t always come with full-cycle service. Victims, through isolation and control, aren’t very well-educated on the ins and outs of services available to them. Their internet use is monitored, if they even have internet. Their comings and goings are monitored, if they are even allowed to come and go. Getting information isn’t something victims of Domestic Violence can do with any amount of safety.
Here are just some of the things I didn’t know until after I was out:
- I didn’t know a restraining order meant he couldn’t move back in. I thought I had to move out.
- I didn’t know that a restraining order meant his weapons would be removed from the home. I thought he could take his gun or sword and use it to exact his revenge.
- I didn’t know that a shelter’s location was confidential. I thought he could show up and drag me out, or worse, leave me and take the children.
- I didn’t know I would qualify for TANF, formerly known as welfare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. I thought I wouldn’t have any way to support myself and my children.
- I didn’t know about Legal Services. I thought I’d have to pawn my car to pay for a lawyer.
- I didn’t know a Victim Advocate would be available to stand by my side in court. I thought I would face him alone.
Helping a victim understand what she can do after initiating charges would go a long way to reducing call after call after call for service to just a call for service.
“We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors,” Mitchell said. “If no one comes forward, we’ll never know.”
Closed doors hide a lot: drugs, abuse, prostitution, kidnappings, etc. Every closed-door is hiding a secret. Some are simply alternative sex lives between husbands and wives, others are far more severe.
People are coming forward, otherwise you wouldn’t have “calls for service after calls for service after calls for service.”
“Randy Jones, the public information officer for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, said the county realized a few years ago that about half its homicides were related to domestic violence.” This tells me you know. All the officers know. Domestic Violence is on the rise, and that is known.
You may never know what’s going on behind a closed-door until that door is opened, but you know it is happening. Try asking instead of waiting to be told. You’re an office, you have officer’s instinct. Ask. Asking someone if they are a victim of DV isn’t going to make them a victim, but how they answer, looking at physical and verbal cues, will tell you if they are.
Many issues can factor into domestic violence, Mitchell said — finances, health, trust, family problems and illnesses among them.
There are not many issues that factor into Domestic Violence, there are two: power and control. Everything else falls under these two categories. The fear and intimidation, the isolation and monitoring, the gaslighting and lying, the belittling, the throwing objects and punching all come down to the perpetrator demanding absolute power and control over the victim.
The stresses of finances, health, family problems, and illnesses are simply excuses perpetrators use to rationalize their behavior. They are not issues factoring into Domestic Violence. They are excuses. Call it semantics, but it’s important.
Just because someone lost their job doesn’t give them a viable reason to punch their wife. Just because someone has high blood pressure doesn’t give them a viable reason to punch their wife. Just because someone’s parents are suddenly divorcing after thirty years of marriage doesn’t give them a viable reason to punch their wife. Just because someone has the flu doesn’t give them a viable reason to punch their wife.
“The thing about domestic violence is there so much emotion in it,” Mitchell said. “Just true, raw emotion.”
Oh my, yes! There is so much emotion. The perpetrator is angry. The victim is scared. The emotions shown in an incident of Domestic Violence are true and raw. They are honest. The perpetrator will show his true colors. He will blame his victim for provoking his emotions. The victim will likely be crying. She may even yell, and, gasp, curse. What she is saying to you in the heat of emotion is likely everything she wishes she could say to the man who put her in this position. She is projecting on you as her abuser projects on her. Listen.
Listen to what she is saying. Read between the lines, and the truth of the true and raw emotions will reveal itself. Let her yell. Let her get it out. Do not interrupt. And when she collapses at your feet in absolute exhaustion, tell her you hear her. Letting a victim of Domestic Violence know she’s been heard will do more for her than anything else you can do. I hear you. Say it. Practice it. I hear you. Those three little words are the single most important words you can utter.
Detective Mitchell, I hope you’ll take the time and energy to speak to survivors, doctors and nurses, and advocates to truly grasp the dynamics of Domestic Violence.
Will you go to a local DV shelter and talk, with an open mind and an open heart, to some of the survivors staying there? Ask them to explain to you why they didn’t call the police, why they didn’t press charges, why they chose to sneak out under the cover of darkness rather that watch from the front lawn as their abuser was taken away in handcuffs. Will you stick around at the ER one night? Talk to doctors and nurses setting broken bones and stitching knife wounds about what they hear from victims in their care. Will you go to the next vigil for victims? Talk to advocates about what they’ve seen and heard about the system. Gather this knowledge, and become a bigger part of the greater solution. Please.
Thank you for reading, Detective Mitchell, and all officers involved in responding to Domestic Violence calls.
Survivor of Domestic Violence