Necessary first steps for bringing chaotic families in from the margins
NEW BRAINTREE, MA Domestic violence happens in family systems that are secretive, chaotic, and dysfunctional. This lifestyle pushes them into the margins of society – often detached from the communities in which they live. More often than not, this is the way they choose to live.
The abusive spouse makes his efforts known within the system by his barbaric authoritarian demands. He keeps his spouse isolated as a way of controlling and manipulating whatever truth exists among these disparate family members. The consequence of this isolation leaves women without a sense of “self” – alone an emotional orphan vulnerable to his threat of abandonment and ultimately, annihilation.
In previous blogs, I have published some of the obvious psychosocial consequences of this coercion, including the lack of employment, a paucity of extended family support, no source of independent financial resources, and limited social contacts. Any sign of independence, signals to the abuser that he has not done enough to demoralize his intimate partner.
Successful intervention for these families must slowly bring them back from the margins into the social milieu. Sometimes this happens when teachers attempt to engage parents in a dialogue about the child’s particular needs or when children demonstrate an interest in team sports. Arguably, the resistance to this is so intense that the violent spouse will pull up stakes and move his family at the first sign of public scrutiny. Why?
The underlying threat to the status quo raises anger and resentment in a narcissistic abuser who, like the scornful witch in Snow White, expects one hundred percent loyalty and compliance. All signs of independence are squashed – usually punishment blossoms out of fear and loathing that is always percolating.
Police officers are regarded as the front line first responders to family conflict and DV. For better or worse, the police have an opportunity to effect change whenever they enter into the domestic foray. This affords them a window into the chaos and the opportunity to bring calm to crisis. In many cases, the correct response to intimate partner violence should include aftermath intervention when the dust has settled from the crisis that brought police to this threshold. When this is done it establishes a baseline of trust, empathy, and resilience.
There are inherent problems with any notion that police officers will return to the scene of bad domestic calls where there may have been a violent arrest only days before. This stems from the adversarial model that exists in most law enforcement agencies where follow-up to criminal activity is rarely conducted by front line officers. Many departments delegate follow-up investigations to detectives or in rare case civilian personnel. This schism lacks fundamental adherence to the community policing mantra of building relationships between the police and its citizenry.
Community policing has long espoused the partnership between police and citizens. The positive benefits to this create bridges between the two that may benefit officers at times of need – including the de facto extra set of eyes when serious crimes are reported. But the model goes two ways and requires that police return to their calls and establish protocols for defusing future events meanwhile processing and understanding the current actions of recent police encounters. When done effectively the most difficult families may be kept off the police radar screens for longer periods of time that can be a good thing when it comes to manpower deployment and officer safety.