Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, psychological or/ and sexual abuse in an intimate relationship. This is normally done to have control and make the victim powerless by humiliating and intimidating them (AJSG, 2014). Studies conducted show that women are the most affected by domestic abuse though there are men in relationships who face the same kind of problem. In many communities around the world, domestic violence remains a hidden issue where people suffer in silence. Many victims feel ashamed and embarrassed to the police especially men. Some hesitate to report to the police fearing that nothing can be done by the authorities. Furthermore some authorities from different parts of the world for one reason or the other fail to record enough or meaningful information that can aid in investigation (Saxton et al, n.d). This paper is going to discuss in detail the strategies that police use to deal with this issue. It is also going to describe the experiences the victims have had when they reported the matter to the police. Several research studies have been conducted concerning the issue of police strategies on domestic violence. This paper will additionally bring out the facts and analysis in some of these studies to bring out a clear understanding on the matter.
*Domestic Violence in Canada*
A general survey conducted in 2004 found that 7% of Canadians aged 15 years and over have experienced spousal abuse. 6% of this population represents men who are being abused in their relationships (Lee, 2008). From these statistics it is evident that men suffer as much as women do. It is astonishing that only a quarter of the abused population reported the matter to the police. The number of those who reported is higher for women aged 15 years to 24 years and the lowest for women past the age of 35 years. In 2005, justice Canada carried out a research and revealed that 27% of the reported cases at the police department were domestic violence cases (Lee, 2008).
In Canada there are two government bodies which are responsible for handling domestic violence issues. These are the Justice Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The main role of the Justice Canada is to strengthen the legal framework by making sure that response to domestic violence cases improves. It also plays a crucial role in the creation of new policies that aid in dealing with domestic violence issues. On the other hand, public health agency of Canada which was established in 2004 has a role to play in protecting all Canadians’ health and safety. The Government of Canada saw the need of establishing a national clearing house of family violence which operates under the Public Health Agency. This Centre provides information on domestic violence cases concerning prevention, protection and distribution (Lee, 2008).
On the federal government efforts to reduce and prevent the occurrences of domestic abuse, a family violence initiative was implemented. The justice Canada role in this initiative is to fund related projects and create awareness on domestic violence to the public. It also plays a crucial role in supporting research studies conducted on this matter. This is done by working closely with the justice statistics and the survey and also by distributing research and statistical reports (Lee, 2008).
*Involvement of Police and the Justice System on Domestic Violence Matters*
In the research conducted by Saxton et al (n.d) on “Domestic Violence Victims’ Experiences with Police and the Justice System in Canada” reveals that there is lack of awareness by the police officers on the dynamics of domestic abuse. Based on the victims’ responses, they claimed that sometimes it all depends on the officer you find at the station because some understand while others do not. According to this study, 13.8% of the victims reported that the police officers are unsympathetic and blameful. A higher percentage accused the police for being insensitive to their problems. They normally blame the victim for the occurrences. Such responses from the police officers who are supposed to offer help to these victims create barriers to the efforts put in place to improve the Justice System.
It is the dissatisfaction and the complexity of the legal process that lead to suffering of the victims in silence. The process leads to frustration and confusion to the victim who is desperately in dire need of immediate help. This may result to the abandonment of the process altogether. From the research study, women find it easy to report to the police compared to men. A total of 35% of the victims reported to the police for legal assistance. This shows that a larger percentage do not report when abused by their intimate partners. From the percentage of the victims who seek police help, only 18.9% found the police services to be of help (Saxton et al, n.d). This study concluded that most victims who involved police in their domestic violence issue expressed dissatisfaction on how the police responded their problem.
The absence of official national charging policy in Canada on domestic violence has left the victims on the mercies of the police officers. The police officers have the power to make a decision to either lay charges or not depending on how they view the case (Dawson and Hotton, 2014). This can easily lead to the under estimation of a case since the kind of criteria the police use or the factors considered to lay charges on a domestic violence case are not clear.in 1984 a directive was issued for police to lay charges on all cases concerning domestic violence. This was not received well by the police officers because it limited their discretion in laying charges. However they gradually supported the strategy and expressed their commitment and seriousness on the issue. Despite the directive, there is still an existing gap on the same issue of laying charges for perpetrators of the law. 9% of the incidences reported were dismissed without any charges being laid and for no valid reason (Dawson and Hotton, 2014).
Weapon involvement, criminal history, serious assaults and witness presence are some of the factors considered for arrest to be made or charges to be laid. There are other extralegal factors that increase the likelihood of arrest such as gender whereby men are more likely to be arrested as suspects compared to women, substance use by the suspect and the location of the incident. The findings of this research by Dawson and Hotton (2014) concerning the gender factor on charging decision suggests that the Justice Canada should put more emphasis on equality and stop biasness so that every individual regardless of the gender get access to justice. Police should not base their decisions on mere traditional gender stereotypes that perceived women as nonviolent. They should be aware of the dynamics of domestic violence and understand that women can as well be suspects of domestic violence.
Police officers put their lives at risk when responding to domestic violence calls. In 2016, a constable named Thierry Leroux lost his life after he was short while responding to an emergency call on domestic disturbance (Huey and Ricciardelli, 2017). This mostly occurs in the remote and rural areas where people are sparsely populated and know one another. This also happens because the residences have a common understanding not to involve the police in their private matters. The use of weapons is also more common in rural Canada because they mostly possess rifles and shotguns which are more powerful and cause serious injuries. As much as police officers vow to protect its citizens, they should consider their safety first. Many people do not view the risk that the police put their lives in instead they are more concerned and focused on how the police will save the victim and apprehend the suspect. Little research has so far been done on this matter. It is reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Statistics that 22% of the death of officers on duty happened during a domestic violence incident. More recent data up to the year 2009 shows that 13.5% of police homicides were during a response to a domestic disturbance (Huey and Ricciadelli, 2017).
According to this research by Huey and Ricciadelli (2017), the police officers narrating their experiences and giving out their views on this matter pointed out that most domestic violence occurrence are fueled by alcohol or substance abuse. Because according to the police officers, the areas that liquor is prohibited the call rate on domestic disturbances was low. When the officer accounts their ordeal on this research study, it is evident that police officers put themselves in great risks when responding to these calls.
*Police Strategies and Guidelines Put in Place Handling Domestic Violence*
According to Justice Canada, police department in Canada are doing their possible best to help victims of domestic violence by quickly responding to domestic disturbance calls and making sure that the offenders are arrested. The government body also reassures Canadians that the police have received training regarding the issue. In addition, Justice Canada states that special units with other professionals involved have been established to help victims (Department of Justice, 2017). However there is a serious problem of recidivism in this matter according to studies. The police department should come up with more strategies to curb this problem and prevent repetition of previous crimes by offenders (Scott et al, 2015). There are programs that have been developed such as Court Linked Batterer Intervention Program, Targeted Probation Services among others in order to reduce the rate of recidivism. There are also programs for victims of domestic violence that equip them with skills and information that will protect them from subsequent victimization (Scott et al, 2015).
The Alberta justice and solicitor general together with Alberta crown prosecution service provide guidelines for the police to assist in the procedure of investigation relating to domestic violence. At the communication desk when receiving a call on domestic dispute, the officer on duty should obtain as much information as possible about the incident and location. The call should always be given priority to avoid tragedies. On arrival at the residence the officer should follow police service policy regarding entry into the premises. Once in, the officer should first check for any medical emergency, locate the children if any, preserve evidence and take detailed notes. Statements should be recorded for both the victim and witnesses (if any) and seize the evidence such as fire arms. Referrals to women shelter should be made if necessary to give ample time for investigation to take place. Once the investigation is complete and evidence has been documented a hearing can commence for a verdict to be reached (AJSG, 2014).
Domestic violence cases are on the rise but the cases being reported to the authorities are very low. More awareness should be created to the public and put emphasis on the need to report these cases to prevent future occurrences which can be fatal. On the other hand police should be up to date with the domestic violence dynamics and show professionalism when dealing with the matter in order for citizens to trust the legal system and feel free to report such issues. However more studies should be done on the police responses on the matter in terms of the decisions made in laying charges on the suspects.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General. (2014). A Domestic Violence Handbook for Police Services and Crown Prosecutors in Alberta. Retrieved from cnpea.ca/images/domesticviolencehandbook.pdf
Dawson, M., & Hotton, T. (2014). Police Charging Practices for Incidents of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada. Research in Crime, 51, 656 – 682.
Department of Justice. (2017). Get help with family violence. Retrieved from www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/help-aide.html
Huey, L., & Ricciardelli, R. (2017). Policing Domestic Disturbances in Small Town and Rural Communities: Implications for Officer and Victim Safety [EBook] (pp. 199 – 212). Canadian Review of Sociology.
Lee, V. (2008). Strategies and Measure in Tackling Domestic Violence in Selected Areas. Retrieved from www.legco.gov.hk/yr07-08/english/sec/library/0708rp09-e.pdf
Saxton, M., Olszowy, L., Macgregor, J., Macquarrie, B., & Wathen, N. Domestic Violence Victims’ Experiences with Police and the Justice System in Canada. Retrieved from cdhpi.ca/sites/cdhpi.ca/files/Police_Paper_Plain_Text.pdf
Scott, K., Heslop, L., Kelly, T., & Wiggins, K. (2015). Intervening to Prevent Repeat Offending Among Moderate – to High Risk Domestic Violence Offenders. A Second Responder for Men. International Journal of Offender Therapy And Comparative Criminology, 59, 274 – 276.