We fight our wars abroad, put billions of dollars into protecting ourselves from domestic terrorism, and yet the body count inside our own homes just continues to mount. Here in Pierce County, it’s hard to be anything but upset about the news of eight lives recently lost to domestic abuse.
Below I have reprinted a guest column I wrote a couple years ago. After thinking it through I realized that this particular incident gave me the majority of my own training in domestic violence. I think it’s a touch melodramatic, but it was a sincere effort.
If you think, after reading, that it’s a cause you could get behind, open up your wallets and/or your time to the Tacoma-Pierce County YWCA. They are fighting the good fight.
The Cycle of Violence (3/09)
Once upon a time there was a young woman; let’s call her Maria. There is little I can tell about Maria as a young girl, but when she fell in love with her Prince Charming, her story intertwined with mine. She was happy and in love, and I was a rookie cop, inexperienced and naive. We met the day Maria first called 911 to report domestic violence.My training officer and I found ourselves in her apartment, caught in the midst of a heated argument between Maria and her new boyfriend. She was heartbroken; I barely knew what to say. Somehow I managed to figure out that no crime had occurred and, embarrassed, I hurried out.
Maria’s 911 calls continued. At each successive incident her fear increased in direct proportion to the decrease in her will. One inevitable day she answered the door with a red and swelling cheek, but when I put the handcuffs on her boyfriend I was unprepared for Maria’s reaction. She fought us.
Maria screamed as she charged me. My partner had to grab and hold her flailing form as I dragged Prince Charming to the car.
Weeks later, I stood in court as the judge repeatedly called Maria’s name for testimony. Realizing further attempts would be in vain, he dismissed the case with a heavy rap of his gavel. My frustrations were as much a burden as the lengthy arrest reports I held.
Years of hindsight suggest that Maria was one more example of the following fact: more than half of the domestic violence prosecutions end with an absent victim. But the poisonous effect of Maria’s fear and self-loathing only became evident to me over time.
After the first arrest Maria no longer called us. When we arrived, after complaints from neighbors, she refused to answer the door. When we quoted state law and shoved the door open she would try and hide. She would not, could not acknowledge the bruises on her face, nor the demented twist her fairy tale life had taken.
Finally one day she spoke to me in a fragile voice interrupted by a bitter sob. She finally breathed the words I had been waiting to hear. He was going to kill her, so she was going to leave.
I swallowed my doubts and encouraged her as best I could. Could Maria leave of her own will? I did not and do not know. I no longer wonder why women such as she do not simply walk away. In either case, a shotgun blast made the question moot.
One day I found her lying on the floor of her apartment in a pool of blood. She was conscious but rapidly slipping into shock from the quarter-sized hole the heavy shotgun slug had punched into her abdomen.
She looked at me and gasped out that it was an accident. I said, “Who?”
She shook her head, the fear in her eyes still visible behind the pain.
The medics strapped her into the ambulance, whisked her to the ER and saved her life. Despite her silence, the forensic evidence put Prince Charming in prison. In the end, Maria’s fairy tale became a savage battle between her fractured self-esteem and the control wielded by her cruel tormentor. The only victory she could claim was survival.
For myself, Maria taught me everything I need to know about the cycle of domestic violence; there is no happily ever after.