From Courtney Lynn Blasiol, published with permission:
I fell asleep and woke up having a nightmare about the speech I am giving Tuesday going horribly wrong. Since it is a topic that I am passionate about I was just going to wing it but decided to jump up and prepare a speech.
Please tell me how it sounds. I don’t want it to sound formal or scripted, I want it to sound authentic and down to earth. I intend to add some unscripted conversation into it but overall I would like to follow this format. If there are typos or misspellings it is not because I am stupid or careless, it is because I am exhausted and I wrote this with a migraine so I can’t even hardly see what I am writing due to my visual aura disturbing my vision.
Please don’t be harsh. I wrote this in like 5 minutes. I have written anything important since I was in college, my writing skills are rusty to say the least, my public speaking skills are nonexistent. 😉
Hi, thank you for allowing me to speak to you for a few minutes about domestic violence from a survivior’s perspective. All of you are on the frontlines of this battle. You have the very challenging task of responding to these calls and responding in a manner that keeps women and children safe. I do understand that men can be abused as well but since 95% of interpersonal violence is perpetrated against women I am going to speak about that.
My brother used to be a deputy in Caroline County so I have been able to hear about the challenges of these calls. Not only are they difficult to evaluate but they are some of the most dangerous calls you can go on. I do not envy your position at all, and as a survivor I am grateful for the job you do. I am going to give you a little information that you may find helpful, you may not but as a survivor they are things we want you to know.
I think perhaps one of the most important issues is bias. We all have biases, we don’t even realize it sometimes, these biases frequently lay just below the surface of our concious thought and we do not intend any harm with them but they can be dangerous when trying to make a determination if dv did occur or not. When it comes to DV there are a few dangerous biases that can happen.
The first one is that false accusations of abuse are rampant. They aren’t. Women make false accusations less than 2% of the time, I believe the actual number is 1.8%. So if a woman is saying abuse occurred it is most likely true. On that same note many abusers will play the victim and accuse the real victim of being the abuser. This is a common tactic of DV abusers to silence their victims. To complicate the situation further, the victim may have harmed the abuser, there may be marks, but it was very likely self defense. To illustrate this, back in October of 2011 my husband at the time took my 4 children hostage when I was out of the house taking a breather. It had been a long rough day parenting my little 9 month old who had been extremely clingy and I had needed about an hour of time to restore myself. My husband did not like this, he wasn’t an active participant in parenting and he took offense to me getting some time to myself and leaving him to care for the children. As a punishment he locked them all inside our master bathroom and told them all that “mommy was coming back to kill them”. They knew the truth but they were fearful of him and kept quiet. When I returned home my house was quiet. WIth four kids it was usually loud and lively. I could not find the children. I searched everywhere calling their names. Finally I approached the master bedroom and the door was locked. My husband wouldn’t open the door and he wouldn’t answer me, I started to cry and beg. He finally came out and told me that I was “(insert expletive) insane and that I was a harm to myself and others”…remember this was all because I took an hour to drive to Starbucks and come back. For 45 minutes I called for my children to answer me. They didn’t. I finally gave my husband a warning that I would have to call the police if he didn’t show me that the children were okay. He knew that I was panicked. As I was dialing 911, he walked up behind me and hit me hard across the back of my head and took the phone out of my hand and threw it to the ground, shattering it. Our baby was in his arms and she kept reaching out to me crying “mama, mama, mama!” and he wouldn’t let me touch her, every time I attempted to he would slap my hands away. As he towered over me (he is 6’4) screaming at me and poking his finger into my forehead, he eventually had me cornered in our kitchen…within reach of our knives. I saw his eyes darting back and forth between me and the knives and at one point his arms reached towards the knives…I slapped him. I was NOT abusing him, this was self defense and I knew that it would startle him momentarily allowing me to push past him to run upstairs to my other children. I didn’t make it far, he set our daughter on the floor and pushed me to the hardwood floor and then turned my body around, slammed my head to the ground, restrained my wrist, spit on me, and told me he was calling the police. When the older children came out of the room crying he left me alone, I gathered up the children and left for a week. While I was gone he would send me harassing texts that the sheriff’s department was looking for me. During that week he told people we knew and posted on my facebook profile that I had “punched him in the face with our baby in our arms, just missing the baby’s head.” Had the sheriff’s office been called that night and a deputy responded it would have been a very confusing situation to walk in on. I am certain my husband would have told them the story he told his friends and posted on my facebook wall, but it would not have been true. Yes, I did slap him, with an open hand, but it was in self defense, not out of anger and/or aggression. These things are very, very different. Always be mindful of the potential of this happening when you respond to a call.
Another bias I have run into since leaving is the bias of socioeconoimic status. I never actually called the sheriff’s dept on my husband so I can’t say that the deputies responded with this bias but the court system has. I have been told multiple times by officials in the court system that affluent and educated men don’t abuse their wives or children. I am here to tell you that they do and it is easier for them to get away with it because most people think of an abuser as a guy in a “wife beater shirt” sitting in a lazy boy chair sipping beer after beer. This is a dangerous misconception! Just because there is a BMW parked in the driveway of the large fancy house of the call you are responding to does not mean that the well dressed and well spoken man who opens the door is not abusing his partner. Abuse cuts across all social classes! But because of this bias, women in higher socioeconomic classes actually have a harder time escaping from their abuser.
And the last misconception/bias is the one that the victim/abuser dad gives off themselves by their emotional states. I can only speak from my own experience and the experience of many other victims that have shared their stories with me but let’s just say…not everything is as it seems. Odds are that when you make contact with the couple, the female is likely to be upset, crying, maybe even screaming in hysterics. She may be hostile as well. The other party is likely to be calm, charismatic, charming, maybe even using humor to laugh off his partner’s current emotional state insinuating that she is a “few cards short of a full deck” and prone to dramatics to get her way. He will have excuses for whatever she may have told you. He will seem believable, she may not. You will perhaps think that she is just one of those crazy women calling the police to manipulate or punish her partner. Tread cautiously. I urge you to please try to convince her to reach out to a domestic violence center, give her the number, you can even give her my number, she can text me, I will do everything in my power to get her help. She will probably not present well and will not be very likable but please don’t judge her credibility based on this. Victims live in a primal survival mode, in this mode we are operating off of our ancient reptilian brain, we don’t have higher thought, we are not very likable in this mode. But this is how we operate when we are in fear. This should actually be a red flag that something did occur.
While I have your attention I would like to talk to you about one more thing…strangulation/choking. If a woman tells you that she has been choked/strangled…PAY ATTENTION! Strangulation is the biggest predictor of future homicide. According to Casey Gwinn at the strangulation training institute “If a man strangles a woman once with his hands, he is 800 percent more likely to later kill her than a man who assaults a woman but does not strangle her.” There are other lethality risks (presence of stepchildren, presence of guns, suicidal threats, presence of substance abuse, presence of mental illness, etc) but strangulation is the primary one and something you all need to pay close attention to. I don’t know how it is here in Hanover but I was told in Caroline that they can only arrest for strangulation if there are marks…in 50% of strangulation cases there will NOT be marks but you can look for other indicators. One is a raspy/hoarse voice. Often victims may use the bathroom on themselves involuntarily. Also petechiae (little red pinprick marks) around the eyes or under her eyelids may be present. A victim strangled to unconsciousness suffers internal brain damage and often long-term health consequences but may have no external marks at all. Any observations you document will be key in prosecution if he is charged and goes to trial. Not only is it important for the victim for these men to be identified it is important for you, it is a matter of life or death for you as it has been found that 50 percent of all police officers killed in the line of duty are killed by men who have previously strangled women. please learn all you can about strangulation and its lesser known indicators, try to focus less on the presence or absence of bruises around the neck and on other indicators that may be present. Make sure to add any signs you see to your reports, the more the better. Make sure the victim receives medical help immediately, before you leave the call,
She may have survived but she can die hours or even weeks later from swelling of the tissue inside her throat or fluid build up in the lungs caused by the strangulation. It is important to let her know what grave risk she is at by staying with a partner who strangles her. To quote Casey Gwinn again: “Men who strangle women are the most dangerous men on the planet.” and to quote his colleague Gael Strack: “Strangulation is the last warning shot.” You can save many lives by being diligent in a case where a victim says she was choked/strangled.
Thank you for the work you do, it is important work, it is brave work. Thank you for risking your own lives to protect ours.