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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why it’s so hard to call 911

One of the things that a lot of the pamphlets and articles say about domestic violence is that if you are in immediate danger, call 911.  And apparently a lot of people do – I've read statistics that say, depending on the police department, between 35% and 50% of calls to 911 are related to domestic disturbances.  I find this encouraging and disturbing at the same time.  Encouraging because that number is much higher than I would have expected.  Disturbing because domestic violence is often touted at one of the most under-reported crimes.  So how much violence is happening behind closed doors that never gets reported to police?  The numbers must be staggering.

I know for me, calling 911 was a huge struggle for a lot of reasons.  I’ll go over them here and list a few more that I have come across in my research.
One big reason I was hesitant to call was because it seemed so drastic.  Calling the police puts it out there in the open and it’s scary. If he was taken away, would I press charges, would I testify?  How could I live with him until the trial?  I was sure the violence would get worse once he came back home. Therefore, I felt like calling 911 was the same as filing for divorce,  because I knew if I pressed charges there was no way I could live with him.  Which meant, I would have to take the kids and go somewhere temporarily.  All very complicated on short notice and late at night when the worst usually happened.
Another big reason was that I felt if he was convicted of something after I called 911, he would have a criminal record and possibly go to jail.  Not that he didn’t deserve it; but if he had a record, could he get a job?  I wasn’t sure.  By the time the physical abuse started he had not been working for a while.  I was afraid he’d never be able to get a job and pay child support, and he would blame me for that.   I think to myself sometimes, "perhaps he should have thought about things like this before he tried to strangle me with a bungee cord in front of the kids," but it doesn't really matter now.    I’m sure this is a factor for other women as well - if their partner is in jail, he cannot be working, especially where the father is the only wage earner.
A lessor reason includes not wanting to have the kids see their father hauled off by the police.   It happened the one time I did call, and it was horrible.   The kids did occasionally bring it up.  I explained that the police were helping mommy and daddy, that daddy needed to spend the night somewhere else. What do you say?

A not insignificant factor was that there were many times when I was ready to call 911, I was scared, and did not care about the consequences, but I could not call.  Brad would preemptively take the phone, or would beat me to it and throw it across the room,  or simply physically prevent me from getting to the phone.   Once the fight was over and he was drunk, asleep, or watching TV, I could have called 911.  The problem was that by then he would have been very calm, and would not have been threatening. In contrast, I would have probably seemed hysterical to the policemen. 

Brad only left bruises one time because his ‘go to’ physical abuse was strangling, combined with a lot of pushing and shoving and threats to kill.  The strangling never left a mark.  Even the worst time when my throat was sore for two weeks, there were no actual bruises on the outside.   So if I called the police what would I say?  It would be his word against mine and he can be quite convincing.
Some other things I have come across about why women don’t call 911 include not thinking the abuse was bad enough to warrant calling the police, being deported, and the woman thinking that the was abuse her fault.  I can relate to the first one, but not the second two.  I feel truly sorry for women in those situations.   It must be horrible to be trapped in an abusive relationship when you feel you cannot do anything from a legal perspective because you and possibly your children would have to leave the country.  Or worse, you’d have to leave and your abusive husband would get the kids.

As far as the women who feel the abuse is their fault, that is such a shame.  Luckily, for me, I never felt that way, but I know it’s very typical.  These abusive men are extremely manipulative  and brain wash their victims to believe a lot of stuff that’s not true.  It typically goes something like this “If you remembered to buy more bread like I asked you, I would not have had to hit you.”  The really sad thing is that a lot of abused women truly believe these statements.   It’s ridiculous from the outside looking in, but I can totally understand having been in it.   These men are so convincing with their manipulative and controlling behavior, it’s hard to have an independent thought sometimes.

Bottom line, I never really wanted what I perceived as the ‘bad’ things that would result if I called 911, but I was afraid of how dangerous he might get on many occasions.  I did not want him to hurt me or kill me, and there were a few times when he came close.     I just wanted him to stop hurting me and to leave the house for a couple of days.  I tried to convince him many times to do this.  He  would even agree to this in theory when he was not upset.  He said he would leave if he got too angry, but he never did.  He absolutely could not be rational when he was angry, which is why it was so terrifying.
Do I wish I had called 911 more than once?  I think so.  I might have left sooner.  He might have a ‘record’ that would have kept him from getting the kids unsupervised longer.  But might he still be unemployed?   Questions that will never be answered, yet still bother me from time to time.

I’m sure I felt the same as most women in this situation, we don't want our husbands arrested, we don’t necessarily want a divorce, we don’t want to split the family up.  We just want the fighting and the abuse to stop, we need to feel safe, and if that means calling 911 when you're scared, do it.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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