Editor's Note: April 10-16 is Crime Victims Rights Week. Throughout the week, The Daily Press will be publishing opinion columns on the subject authored by local officials and agencies who aid and support the victims of crime. This article was authored by the Delta County Sheriff's Department.
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ESCANABA - Never forget that 911 is your lifeline to police protection and intervention. If possible, get out away from the abuser and call from a neighbor's house, pay phone, or other location with other people around.
If this is too dangerous, try to get to a bedroom or other room where you can lock the door to make your call. Be sure that you've checked your safety plan and you'll know how to get out of that room if you need to (maybe a window) in case your abuser has a key or kicks the door in.
If this isn't possible, just dial 911 and drop the phone. Don't hang it up! If you hang up, the dispatcher who gets the 911 signal will call back to find out what's going on.
This gives the abuser a chance to try to tell the dispatcher that everything is fine or make up some excuse as to why the call was placed. Even though most departments will send a police officer anyway, this could tip off your abuser that you've attempted to get help. For some, this might make them hurry to leave to avoid being arrested...for others it can cause the violence to get even more intense because they will be angered that you "told on them." Since you can't see into the future, don't play with your life and take the gamble.
If you are able to stay on the phone, give the dispatcher the most important information first in case you need to drop and run. Simply say that you're in a fight or that you're being hit. This way the dispatcher can immediately get police assistance on the way and have medical assistance standing by in case you need it.
If you leave because of an incident of abuse, be prepared. Go to a friend's house, neighbor's house, the police station or to other public place immediately. Help the police to help you. They will ask you questions about the incident and ask you to make a written statement. Remember that as a victim you can ask to have a victim's advocate present while filling out the police report.
As always, if you have a protective order/domestic violence injunction show it to the officer immediately.
An advocate can help bridge the gap between the emotional despair you're feeling and the police officer who is trying to get as much information out of you as possible. Don't be afraid to ask to have someone else there. Some people would rather have a friend or relative present for support, others prefer the compassion of a stranger here. Ask for whatever is right for you.
You will be asked the standard questions about your abuser: name, race, address, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.
If you can provide any of the following information, the chances of your abuser being arrested quickly begin to skyrocket: (don't count on your memory here, it tends to fail you at the worst moments). Be prepared:
- A photograph
- Social Security number
- Year, make and model of any vehicles and the license plate numbers
Be sure to note anything "odd" about the vehicle...cracks, dents, bumper stickers, etc. Officers see lists of many "suspect" vehicles during daily briefings and they will be more likely to remember a bumper sticker than a general vehicle description.
- The abusers place of employment and the address
- Scars, marks or tattoos
- Places they frequent (bars, friend's houses, hang outs, etc.)
Be sure to mention any drug use and if known to carry any type of weapon. Also let the officers know if there are any guns or other weapons in your home, car, etc. They may take these weapons to prevent access to your abuser.
You may want to write this all down ahead of time and keep it in your kit, it will make the questioning session with the police shorter and take some of the strain off of you.
It's never an easy process, but don't forget to take care of yourself emotionally when you take the step to protect yourself physically.
If the abuser has fled the scene and you are scared to go back, ask the police to go with you while you pack clothing and other items. If you're not going back now, but plan to later, call and ask an officer to meet you there when you're ready.
If the abuser isn't present when the officer arrives, the officer has to do a report. That report goes to the prosecuting attorney's office and they decide if the case will result in charges and the pursuit of a warrant for arrest. If your abuser is on scene when the police arrive, and the officer has probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred, they may be required by law to make an arrest - even against your wishes.
The reason for this is: a crime has been committed. Assault and battery (activities that are part of domestic violence) are crimes - and just like it's a crime to slap a stranger on the sidewalk, it's also a crime to batter someone you know or are in a relationship with. Having a relationship with a person doesn't make it ok for them to commit the crime of domestic violence against you or to damage your children by exposing them to violence against you. Crimes are considered to be committed against all of us...against society as a whole...not against individuals.
Remember: The police rely on you to judge how effectively their "style" of policing is serving the community.
If you have either positive or negative comments about the way the police helped you, consider providing that feedback in a letter or phone call to the police chief or the sheriff. If more immediate feedback is needed, call the department and ask to speak to the supervisor on duty. This is the person immediately responsible for ensuring that their personnel are properly enforcing the laws and following department policies and procedures designed to protect members of the community like you and your family.
Many times after the officer assists the victim and writes the reports to pursue prosecution of the offender, the victim attempts to withdraw their complaint. Sometimes the victim recants their story and doesn't wish to participate in the prosecution of the offender. Some fear retaliation or abandonment from the offender.
Others may be completely dependent upon the offender as the sole means of shelter and financial support. Police agencies and prosecutors are aware of these challenges and can help to get you involved in local programs to help with rent, bills, groceries, and other elements that are keeping you in an abusive relationship.
The use of domestic violence injunctions can include child support orders and restitution orders. Your local domestic violence program can also provide assistance to the many things that may weigh heavily on your mind as you consider whether or not to participate in the process. Keep in mind that the prosecution can proceed with charges against the offender, even without your permission or cooperation, but has a better chance of conviction if you as the victim are willing to testify.
It is vital that you obey any court-ordered notice to appear. Deciding that you don't want to participate after you have received notice to appear is an option that can land you in contempt of court.
Since the case can go forward even without your testimony, it is in your best interest to be active in the process to hold the offender accountable for their actions, which might include jail time and mandatory domestic violence counseling.
If you have difficulties or unforeseen problems that might interfere with your testimony, let the prosecutor know or work with advocates from your local domestic violence program. They really are on your side and will try to work with you.