THE SILENCED VICTIMS OF THE BLUE COMMUNITY
Author: Jayantika Rao Tiruvaloor Viavoori
Department: Women’s Rights Team
Eliminating violence against women (VAW) has been a crucial international commitment for years, that has been incorporated into national and international conventions. The progress within this area took a nosedive after the onset of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (hereinafter referred to as Covid-19). To combat the spread of the virus, many governments imposed national lockdowns and home confinements. While the steps taken were necessary, they had adverse consequences on society, especially for women. UN Women launched the Shadow Pandemic Public Awareness campaign to highlight that domestic violence (DV) has intensified exponentially during the pandemic (UN Women, 2021). UN Women imply that parallel to the visible pandemic of Covid-19 exists a shadow pandemic of domestic violence. The rise in DV cases results from locking women with their abusers (UN Women, 2021), thus, creating two pandemics.
Owing to Covid-19, many governments gave their law enforcement agencies more responsibility in controlling the spread of the virus and promoting safer communities. The pandemic expanded the peripheries of policing well beyond what was previously understood as legitimate (Kyprianides et al., 2021). Increasing the scope of police agencies’ power has been beneficial, but what does it mean in other avenues of policing, including in relation to DV. Moreover, the police, who are supposed to protect women from violence, could at times be a part of the problem. Research on police officers as perpetrators of DV is an area that needs considerable in-depth examination. While the relationship between militarised masculinity and domestic violence has been well-documented (Kelly, 2000; Langa and Eagle, 2008, Goodmark, 2015; Ferguson, 2021), there is a gap in the field that examines police officers as perpetrators. By mainly focusing on the American police force, this article will highlight the issue of violence against women in police families and the challenges that DV victims may experience when trying to get protection from their police spouses. Discussing the tendency of DV to occur within police families is essential to raise awareness in order to create a specific legal framework to protect the victims and as they are also tasked with enforcing domestic violence laws in their community. As a first responder to DV, the police officer’s attitude and perception of DV and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are crucial in getting help for victims, and a negative response may result in secondary victimisation.
Domestic Violence (DV) is an extensive term used to describe behaviour in a relationship that uses or maintains power and control over an intimate partner. This type of violence can include physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, or economic actions or threats of action to influence another person (UN Women, 2021). Behaviours meant to terrorise, intimidate, frighten, manipulate, or even humiliate are considered domestic violence. Irrespective of gender, race, or religion, DV affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. World Health Organisation (WHO) found that nearly one in four women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner (WHO, 2021). However, DV is underreported, as women are not believed, or there is a lack of physical evidence, especially in cases that involve psychological/emotional or economic threats. Though DV affects women worldwide, the focus of this article is a small segment of the American population – law enforcement agencies.
Scope of the Problem
DV among police families is a relatively understudied field. The two primary surveys conducted in the 1990s that specifically focused on police families revealed that two out of five or 40 percent of police families had experienced DV (Anderson and Lo, 2011). This estimation was backed by a 2015 US survey that found that 40 percent of police personnel acknowledged that they had committed acts considered DV at home in the last six months (Hope and Rosilin, 2015). Therefore, it is posited that the average rate for DV in police families is 20 percent, which is considered double the general population’s rate (Williamson, 2021). Due to the underreporting and culture of silence within the police department, surveys are rare and are conducted mainly within small groups of up to 500 participants. Despite this, Burmon (2022) hypothesised that American police officers perpetrate acts of violence at roughly 15 times that of the general population. DV statistics about the ‘blue’ community are eye-opening and shocking. In research conducted by Valentine, Oehme and Martin (2012), it was disclosed that more than half of the responding officers personally knew at least one officer that committed domestic violence that went unreported. Journalists like Friedersdorf (2014) and Hope and Roslin (2015) have called the problem an epidemic that has been kept a secret for years.
The small body of literature on police offenders of DV has mainly explained the violent behaviour resulting from their profession. Police Culture refers to the social norms, values and attitudes that have been socialised among the officers influenced by their occupation to cope with everyday issues (Williamson, 2021). Therefore, as many studies have highlighted, the ‘blue’ community is a highly tight knit group that tends to follow its own code. Their occupational subculture reinforces male dominance, aggression, control, and masculinity, which is an essential factor causing DV in the vast literature that examines violence from a gender perspective.
Police work is considered one of the most masculinised occupations that glorifies violence while promoting a “cult of masculinity” (Fagerlund, 2021). Police sexism believes that women are responsible for men’s violence, thus, having serious consequences. Police training is designed to create an authoritative figure that increases the likelihood of domestic violence. Police training imparts methods to combine verbal commands with physical acts to control individuals to make them complacent to the officer (Williamson, 2021). Exposure to such methods and other factors that influence domestic violence, like job stress, is highly harmful to police officers’ partners. Job stress occurs by continuously experiencing gruesome situations and is often brought into police officers’ personal lives, resulting in deviant behaviours like DV.
Many scholars have also recognised that many police officers worldwide are more conservative, especially regarding their attitudes towards domestic violence (Li et al., 2021). While there are many reasons for their outlooks concerning domestic violence, their perception is often linked to their “patriarchal views of gender roles and gender equality” (Li et al., 2021). The problem of DV within police families creates more problems, notably, improper investigations of other DV cases by police agencies based on attitudes. Police attitudes based on personal opinion influence the response toward DV. For example, if a police officer is abusive at home, he is more than likely to interpret DV situations as lesser offences or might even sympathise with the perpetrator. Among the first responders, police officers are responsible for identifying the crime to a specific code (Notko et al., 2022), deterring victims from getting protection or legal aid.
Evidence of the Problem
DV within police families is infamous yet hardly discussed in academia or policy formulation due to a lack of primary data. Nevertheless, researching news articles on police officers arrested or accused of domestic violence is never-ending. Recently, a Prichard police Officer, Markell Carter, was arrested and charged with “strangulation or suffocation plus interference with an emergency call” while on duty (Fox 10 News, 2022). Despite the officer’s disturbing record that showed that he had been previously arrested and accused of harassment and domestic violence, his bail was only set at 10,000 USD. According to the Prichard’s Police Chief, Carter was acquitted of the four DV charges (Fingert, 2022). However, records show that the charges were dropped for varying reasons which does not prove innocence. Despite the case against him, Carter is still employed at the department and is on paid leave.
Cases like Markell Carter are not rare occurrences. Rosaura Torres, an author who has written about her experience of being in a physically abusive marriage, revealed details about the police department’s compliance with DV within police families. Rosaura’s ex-husband was a high-ranking police officer in the Philadelphia police force who beat, kicked, and choked her during her 20 years of marriage. The ordeal left her with a detached retina that led to partial blindness (Cheema, 2016). Despite Rosaura’s pleas to him to stop the violence and her threats to report his behaviour, the violence against her continued as he knew he would get away with his crime. Rosaura wrote to the police and city officials detailing her ordeal and the abuse she faced, but it was all ignored (Cheema, 2016). The police department ignored her plea for help while instead promoting her husband. Rosaura was able to escape the abuse when she ended the marriage. However, her husband was never charged with any crime, as in her books, she attributes it to the blue wall of silence where the police protect their people.
The sad reality of the problem is that the cases above are not prominent in the media. Owing to police officers’ ability to carry guns, often DV within police families may get some news attention when their stories end in death. For example, in 2014, a Utah police officer (Joshua Boren) killed his wife, children, and mother-in-law before shooting himself with his service weapon after he received texts from his wife that expressed her desire to leave him after confronting him for raping her (Connor, 2014).
Issue With Reporting
Owing to their position in society, the authorisation to legally carry deadly weapons and their ability to influence official proceedings make police officers as offenders of DV more problematic and dangerous. Victims of DV within police families are hesitant to report their abuse as they fear retaliation or believe their complaints will not be taken seriously. However, those who report abuse find that the department set up to protect them from abuse does not believe their claims and does not conduct investigations properly (Cheema, 2016). Police officers that are perpetrators of DV are often protected by their community as other police officers trust their partners over the victim. Moreover, police officers can malign the victim’s credibility (their spouse) before the victim even reports the abuse because of their power and status. At times, the accusations are turned against the victim by the officers tasked with investigating the claim due to their personal association with the offender. Thus, ensuring that the victim’s claim is disregarded. While in recent years, American police departments have started taking DV allegations seriously, it usually is not set up for the purpose of protecting the victims. Instead, they are more concerned with the department’s image and the career of the alleged officer (Williamson, 2021). The department safeguards American police officers to show solidarity in a masculine culture. Victims of DV whose spouses are within the police department refrain from reporting their spouse for the crime.
Although this article attempts to shed light and expand the knowledge regarding DV within police families, it is only an exploratory endeavour. The overall picture that can make a difference, like investigation and systematic analysis, is still lacking. An essential factor contributing to the gap in the field is one of the factors affecting the DV in police families. Police Culture is extremely powerful, and sometimes the deviant practices that reinforce domestic violence are a part of the culture. Researchers have emphasised that Police Chiefs and other investigating officers often believe their officers, especially if they are friendly with the offender. Thus, allowing for police offenders to receive impunity in criminal activities like violence against women and partners because they have little fear of being reported by other officers. While this article focussed mainly on American law enforcement, there are numerous police cultures worldwide with similar problems.
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 In tribal usage walwar (the bride price) is the right of the father or brother to receive for his daughter or sister’s marriage (Atayee, 1979).