I realised the other night that I hadn’t told you anything more about last week’s night duty; what reminded me was a Channel 4 programme about domestic violence. Domestic disputes are one of our most common incidents; you can almost guarantee at least one on each night or evening shift and many of my colleagues are cynical about them (oh come on Sarah, I thought you were going to be honest. Oh all right then, I too am sometimes cynical).
On night duty I was working with Gary; I don’t particularly like Gary , he is chauvinistic and, after an acrimonious divorce, cynical about women. His idea of ‘down-time’ patrolling is to take a detour into the nearby City Centre to leer at scantily clad women half his age, which makes me uneasy, not least, because they are my age – what does he think about? Don’t get me wrong, Gary is a good cop, experienced and hard working, brilliant in a violent situation and a good thief taker, but I think life has made him hard and he seems to have little compassion.
On Thursday night at about 2am we received a call to attend a domestic dispute, the radio operator told us that the address had a Domestic Violence marker – these are tags placed on the computer system to show where there is a history of domestic violence. The call had come from an anonymous neighbour who reported the sound of the couple fighting; we put on the ‘blues and twos’ and hurried to the address – we used the vehicle’s emergency equipment not to get through the traffic, there wasn’t much of it, but rather to give advance warning that we were on our way, that sometimes has the effect of stopping violence taking place – we wouldn’t have used the equipment if we were hoping to catch a thief.
Gary hates domestic disputes, all the way there he gave me his rant about what a waste of time it was helping these women, when all they do is end up going back to their abusers. And he’s right – about them going back – many women return again and again to men who mistreat them (it is predominantly, but not exclusively, women who are the victims).
I dislike domestic disputes for different reasons, they make me nervous: always volatile and charged with emotion, you can never tell what they will hold. Often you end up in the kitchen of a house, I don’t know why, and that is the worst place: full of potential weapons.
We knew, when we arrived, that it might be bad. As we pulled into the street there were two or three women stood at the front of their own houses, arms folded looking in the direction of the address. As we pulled up they turned away and went inside, not wanting to be involved. We could hear shouting from a man inside and shouting/crying from a woman, but couldn’t hear what was being said. Gary banged on the door loudly, I stood to the side holding my Asp hidden behind my forearm. The shouting stopped, Gary banged on the door again, the curtains flicked momentarily to the side and we got a glimpse of a male face.
“Get in there, it’s the ****ing law”, shouted the male voice. The door opened a crack, into which Gary inserted his large Magnum boot.
“What’s going on mate, people are phoning us saying it’s world war three in here…” said Gary,
“****ing can’t have a conversation with your bride these days can you. We don’t need you, it’s sorted”, came the reply through clenched teeth, from a face contorted with anger.
“We need to come in, where’s your wife?”
“She’s inside, doesn’t want to speak to you”, each word virtually spat out.
I could feel the knot in my stomach tightening as the inevitable approached,
“You know the score, we need to come in and make sure everyone’s alright.” I said,
“Oh the woman speaks does she, want to check on your sister do you? I told you we’re fine”, sneered the male.
“So you’re both OK then”, said Gary, his tone lightening,
“Yes, we’re fine” said the male attempting to reassure us. I was becoming anxious that we hadn’t made sure the female was OK.
“Right then,” said Gary. The male visibly relaxed as he thought that we weren’t going to force the issue, at which Gary heaved all his fifteen stones through the door and in a second pinned the male into a corner of the porch.
“As my colleague said, we need to come in, …” explained Gary very close to the cursing males face.
There was already evidence enough to arrest at least one of the parties to prevent a further Breach of The Peace from what we had heard outside and by now the van had arrived to back us up. The male was cuffed and taken into the rear of the van while we established what had taken place.
The female was stood in the kitchen with defiant expression, long hair stuck to her face with sweat. She had a burst lip and a red mark on the side of her face, she also looked like she was holding her ribs on the left side. It was clear she had been assaulted, I passed this information to Gary whose response was,
“We’re wasting our time, she won’t make a statement.”
“He’s coming in for Breach of the Peace anyway, if you book him in I’ll see what we can do here.”
“You’re wasting your time; shout me up when we you’re ready, I’ll come and get you.”
Gary went off with the male to the custody office; I stayed, the female had still barely spoken a word and was stood, her back to the sink, arms folded staring at me with resent and anger.
“You look like you are in pain.” I said,
“You know nothing,” she replied through gritted teeth, “Why does it have to be like this, he’s so good with me, and I just wind him up. Now you bastards have taken him it’ll just make it worse”
“It doesn’t mean that it’s OK for him to kick shit out of you when he feels like it.”
And so it went on almost predictably, she refused to give an account of how she got her injuries, despite it being as plain as day, and refused medical treatment. The background of the couple was a sorry tale of violence, drink, depression and prescription drugs: she always having him back in a tearful reconciliation, he dodging prosecution for violence against her.
In the event he was detained overnight for a Breach of the Peace based on our evidence of what we had heard and seen. He went to court the following morning when, if all went to plan, the Domestic Violence Officer (DVO) would get round to see her in the cool light of day before he got back. The DVO would have another go at convincing her to support a prosecution, if nothing else to get him into some sort of sentence that features Anger Management training or similar work.
The incident was a perfect example of what the Channel 4 programme was trying to demonstrate, that men who commit violence against women are often manipulative and create a dependency that makes it even harder for women to escape their situation.
On the face of it Gary seems to be right, we do often seem to waste our time but I think that’s a very superficial view. We, the police have a role to play in dealing with domestic disputes but we, not necessarily the police – society as a whole, have a role to play in breaking the hold that these bullies have on vulnerable women.