Domestic abuse is grounded in fear, so what happens when the abusers are part of the system that is supposed to protect those who are being abused? A report by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that UK police officers and other law enforcement personnel accounted for more than 700 alleged cases of domestic abuse over a three-year period from 2015-2018. The actual number is likely to be even higher, the Bureau noted, since only 37 of the UK’s 48 police forces provided data.
Reports of alleged abuses by law enforcement officers were treated differently. More than three quarters of accused officers receive no professional discipline, and just 3.9% of alleged domestic abuse cases involving police force members in England and Wales resulted in convictions, compared with 6.2% of such cases among the general population.
A Women’s Aid manager, Lucy Hadley, stated, ““We are shocked by the findings… No one should be above the law.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism interviewed women who have experienced domestic abuse from their police-officer husbands. One of them, identified as Debbie (an alias) stated that she initially lacked the courage to ask for help from the police because her husband worked as a Merseyside police officer. When she did come forward, Debbie felt that the responding officers treated her differently. “I never got treated like the victim. If he’d been a butcher who’d hit me or a traffic warden or a solicitor, they would not have been the way they were with me,” she said.
The Bureau’s report describes calls for change in cases like Debbie’s, an acknowledgment that “women’s fears of police loyalty may be justified.” In some cases, the survivors of domestic abuse plan to sue the police for what they see as a failure to protect them and bring justice. But such efforts require access to expensive legal aid.
Another approach, championed by the national police and crime commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, along with leading domestic abuse charities, lawyers and Parliament members, is reform. One model involves partnerships between police forces in different areas, so that investigations of domestic abuse by a member of one force are investigated by officers from a neighboring police force. In its research, the Bureau determined that only three police forces in the country have such arrangements currently. Many believe such a policy should be mandatory for all police forces. In addition, some reform advocates have called for the option to report allegations of domestic abuse to a police force other than the one where the domestic abuse survivor’s partner works.
As of September 5, 2019, US corporate media have not covered the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report on domestic abuse by UK police officers.
Alexandra Heal, “Nowhere to Turn: Women Say Domestic Abuse by Police Officers Goes Unpunished,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, May 1, 2019, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-05-01/police-perpetrators-domestic-violence.
Susie Marwood, “‘No One Should be Above the Law’: Women’s Aid responds to Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s Findings on Police Officers Who Perpetrate Domestic Abuse,” Women’s Aid, May 1, 2019, https://www.womensaid.org.uk/no-one-should-be-above-the-law-womens-aid-responds-to-bureau-for-investigative-journalisms-findings-on-police-officers-who-perpetrate-domestic-abuse/.
Student Researcher: Margarette Louis Cruzana (City College of San Francisco)
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)