You are in a role where you have the power to save families. The victim in this family does not have the resources to stand up to their partners bad behaviour, but you do. You can do more than anyone can to help.
The more firm and clear you are in the role outlined here, the faster that the perpetrator will see that they cannot continue what they are doing and their abusive behaviour will stop. Most perpetrators don’t pick on people who are stronger than them, they pick on their partner because they believe that they can get away with it. You can show the perpetrator that he or she is wrong and their partner has your support.
If a victim has called the police, they are scared and most likely angry too. The situation they have called about has probably happened many times before and they may have no idea how they are expected to behave when you attend. The perpetrator on the other hand, will be more likely to know how to use charm, manipulation, and even lies to win your allegiance. The best advice a policeman ever gave me was to not wait until I was upset to call but come and talk to them when I was calm and nicely dressed. He explained the police see upset people all the time and find it hard to deal with. He said I should really try not to cry because police hated that. I appreciated his honesty. That advice helped me a lot, and the police I later needed to deal with probably appreciated it too.
It is very important you know how charming and deceitful DV perpetrators can be. Most criminals blame their victims. Don’t let yourself be deceived. Just because someone is upset or irrational doesn’t mean they are crazy or causing the trouble. DV perpetrators provoke this response in others. Steve was shocked in the beginning at how easily he could get the police to side against me, even when he was shocked at his own behaviour towards me. Asking the victim some very simple and straight-forward questions in private, but where the perpetrators can see you talking will help. If someone is lying, it is hard for them to keep their story straight if they don’t know what is being said. This was the best technique the DV officer who finally helped us used. He didn’t take sides but would talk with me seriously for up to 20 minutes with Steve on the other side of glass doors, Steve started getting very nervous after this. Since he didn’t know what had been said, it became very hard for him to keep making up stories, and he began to drop the lies . . .
You might ask the victim:
“Do you feel intimidated by your partner?”
“Did you feel scared of him/her when you called?”
“Does he/she hurt you?”
“Do you need to see a doctor?”
“Do you feel scared of him/her now?”
“Do you think that you will be OK when we go?”
“Does he/she embarrass you in front of your friends, or tell you that you are an embarrassment?”
“Do you have money of your own? Or does he/she control all of the money?”
“Does he/she make fights when you try and discuss money?” (This is a sign the perpetrator may have credit cards that the victim doesn’t know about and that the perpetrator is financing these cards with the victim’s money.)
After receiving the answers to these questions, all responsibility for the situation should now be directed at the perpetrator as would be in the case of any public assault. I am amazed at the number of times I dealt with police who never once said a word to Steve but instead directed everything at me . . . Don’t make this same mistake. Instead say to the perpetrator:
“Your partner feels intimidated by you and it is our role to defend her/his safety.”
“We will encourage your partner to apply for an AVO [or whatever is similar in your area] and if this does not curb your behaviour you will be put in jail.”
“You do not have the right to intimidate people even if they are your family.”
“You should show your partner better respect.”
In front of the perpetrator, invite the victim to visit the police station to meet the DV officer. Say “Don’t wait until there is trouble again, we want to help you.” If appropriate give the victim help to get an AVO and encourage the victim to proceed, and if appropriate, reassure the victim that there will not be any fines involved and that the process is to show his or her partner that his or her behaviour needs to change and it does not mean that the couple will have to get divorced.
In front of the perpetrator say to the victim – “If you feel scared or intimidated again please call us immediately.”
Make sure that the victim feels safe for you to leave and if not take the perpetrator back to the station to cool off for a few hours.
The whole focus needs to be on the fact that the perpetrator does not have a legal right to intimidate the victim and that the victim has the right and responsibility to call on you if he or she feels threatened.
You will probably be aware of other community social workers you can link the victim up with for support. If not, become familiar with these and if possible learn a bit about them so that you can recommend good ones that have had success with helping DV families in the past and are not going to put all the emphasis on the victim having to leave the perpetrator. If it needs to come to this it will. For now, you need to be concerned with giving the very clear message to the perpetrator that you are not going to get into a dialogue with him or her, and that the victim feeling intimidated is all that concerns you. You need to make it clear that it is unacceptable for the perpetrator to intimidate the victim and that you will protect the victim’s legal right to feel safe and secure in his or her own home.
When you leave call the victim by their full name, “Thanks Mr/Mrs. _________ it is good that you called.” Don’t call the perpetrator by name. Just look at the perpetrator with a watchful eye.
I know how under-staffed and difficult your job is (I have the highest regard for those with the mettle to do police work) so just remember, the more clearly that you encourage the victim to call if s/he needs you and the more clearly you let the perpetrator see that you will be happy to cart him or her off, the fewer times that the victim will need your assistance again.