Domestic Violence (7)
PTSD and Domestic Violence- Why Isn’t This a Women’s Issue?
Why should it have to come to this? Why can’t the wife of a military veteran or a police officer simply ask for help for their spouse and get it? The problem puts wife into a situation where she has to make a choice that she’s not comfortable with. We have heard about abused wives and guns needing to be removed from husbands from the women’s groups, and they talk about strengthening domestic violence laws, to ensure that that is being done,yet these same groups are strangely quiet concerning the root cause of many domestic situations, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You would think that, for the sake of the wife who is living through and watching this hell unfold daily, that there would be a hue and cry about the inaction of police departments and the military in getting help for officers and soldiers suffering from PTSD. These groups would preach that the male needs to be restrained from seeing the wife by court order and that he needs to disarmed. Yet, in my experience, restraining orders are just a piece of paper and taking away a weapon won’t ensure that the male spouse won’t get another weapon.
Yes, those measures are good and needed and afford a certain amount of stability to an unstable marriage or dating relationship. But it falls short for long term solutions to the problem. The rationale of these laws is to correct the poor behavior of the spouse and hopefully reunite the couple. This is difficult if not impossible if the defendant is struggling with PTSD. His lack of ability to sleep soundly or long enough, his nightmarish visions and flashbacks robbing him of any rest, everyday events and objects and sounds and sights set off triggers putting him back into the time and place that caused the PTSD, his uncontrolled crying, his difficulty with emotions and dealing with everyday responsibility, to name a few symptoms, makes for a person that cannot deal with any more problems than he’s already overwhelmed with.
So how does this play out in the everyday world we live in? The husband comes home from work dealing the best he can keeping these nightmares and feelings under control. Every little demand made at work seems monumental, but somehow he’s able to deal with it and just get by .He sits down and he hears his wife complaining about the neighbor’s cat for example .A small everyday problem that seemed important to the wife. He’s trying to keep from exploding because this is not the conversation he wanted to hear and he is about at the point that he cannot deal with anything more .But she goes on and now he’s not paying attention. He’s still dealing with what happened at work today and wondering how tomorrow will be for him, if sometime soon he won’t be able to this job anymore because the strain is getting to be too much. Then the inevitable words that set off the fuse that he doesn’t seem to care or pay attention. He explodes about his horrible life and how he wishes he was dead, but there’s no sense talking to his wife because she just doesn’t get it. His words coming flying out and they are painful and hurtful. He says horrible things to her about her and the children calling them terrible names. Why? Because he can’t deal with his symptoms and he can’t deal with her problems because he just can’t deal with any more problems right now. If she would just understand and leave him alone, everything would be fine, he wishes, but he never expresses that to his wife. He doesn’t express much of anything.
The wife is miserable in her existence and cannot handle too much more of this verbal abuse. She wants it to end but she knows that he’ll lose his gun if he’s in the military or the police (Lautenberg Act) and lose his job. And a restraining order will just infuriate him and it’s just a piece of paper .It won’t stop him. She cannot turn to the employer because they will take action against him for domestic violence and she cannot afford for him to lose his job. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to get him the help he needs to deal with this job related injury? The sad reality is that most police departments and the military are sadly lacking in any counselling programs, and that most would rather terminate the soldier or the officer rather than counsel them ( Badge of Life). And the women’s groups just add fuel to this fire by demanding harsher domestic violence sanctions and tougher gun laws, instead of counseling.
This is short sighted at best. The normal course of action would be that a domestic violence report is taken, and an arrest is made, if warranted. A restraining order is put in place and a court date set. The judge determines whether to vacate the restraining order or make it final. Usually the restraining order is vacated and the couple reunited. Even if it becomes final it is just a piece of paper. If the cause of the domestic, in this case PTSD is not addressed this will repeat itself. One would think that removing or modifying the cause, the PTSD, would be the best remedy. Yet the remedy trumpeted by women’s groups is to punish the male and not treat him. I would think that making an attempt to remedy the situation in the interest of the wife seeing she has begged and pleaded would be given some credence. But their “remedies” as such presently fall short of treating the cause. Instead they would have us treat the symptoms of the problem .PTSD tears families apart. Males cannot be husbands and fathers as they would like to be. To demand that a male experiencing PTSD act more like a father and a husband , demand made by women’s groups is demanding that a male do something he is not fully capable of doing. What good can come of that in the end and how is that best serving women who are wives and mothers?
The Lautenberg Act and Domestic Violence
Such was the intent of the so called Lautenberg Act. Sen Lautenberg hoped to close a loop hole in domestic violence cases where the defendant could plea bargain his case down from a felony to a misdemeanor. In doing so, under the old law as written, the weapons he had taken away from the defendant could be returned to him/her after the plea bargain. The concern was that, in doing so, it would re-arm a violent perpetrator who could now wound or kill his spouse and loved ones. Of course, we didn’t want a violent person to be armed with a weapon to wreak havoc on the population, but by dropping the threshold to misdemeanor, a loud argument or a torn pocket, could result in the so-called perpetrator losing his/her weapons. Couple that with all weapons being seized that could reasonably present a threat to members of the household and you have a net that snared more than they had intended.
Before Lautenberg, it was only someone who rose to the level of a felony criminal who would be effected by the law. After Lautenberg, the average spousal argument could result in the loss of any weapon. For some citizens this seemed reasonable as they used them for recreation purposes and could afford to wait until the case was adjudicated to get their weapons back.
But what if the “perpetrator” was law enforcement or military? They would not be allowed to possess a firearm if convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. A soldier cannot be a soldier, and law enforcement cannot be law enforcement without their firearm. Too bad the law says. No exceptions! The stress level is already high enough because of the domestic strife and the toll it is taking on the family. Now it will impact the job of this person. Who will pay the bills? Who will satisfy the loan obligations on the house or the car? Where is the now terminated officer to find work? Where will the military person find work? They have lost everything because of a complaint signed by their spouse or co habitant. They can either plea with the complainant to re consider, or they can stop the complainant from appearing in court, by any means necessary.
Thankfully the complainant reconsiders and withdraws the complaint most of the time. But in many cases they don’t. They have reached irreconcilable differences and nothing can dissuade the complainant. They are determined to end the fighting and abuse and punish the perpetrator under the Lautenberg Act.
Where does this leave the perpetrator? Desperation sets in. He is being called into his command after he had a fight with his wife. He sees an array of supervisors all looking in his direction. He approaches the front desk and asks what he was being called into the command for. Under the Lautenberg Act his weapon must be seized and he placed under arrest upon complaint of his wife. All at once he sees his life and future all fading before his eyes. He knows one thing, that his wife is costing him his future and his job. So instead of surrendering his weapon he flees the district building and spots his wife exiting a patrol car accompanied by two officers. Overcome with rage and fear he races toward her, draws his weapon and kills her with one shot. Overcome with what he did and knowing he has nothing, he turns the weapon on himself and kills himself.
This was not fiction. This happened as a result of misguided policies and over reaching laws. Thankfully policies had changed somewhat. Instead of suspension because of the domestic violence, officers were afforded continued employment on modified duty until the case was adjudicated. If the restraining order was vacated, then the officer could have his weapon returned. If the restraining order became final, the officer is terminated. There is never any guarantee on either disposition and the possibility is always there of termination. In fact the very process of being charged with domestic violence could be the spark that set the tinder box in flames.
In “Do race and gender matter in police stress? A preliminary assessment of the interactive effects” in the Journal of Criminal Justice the discussion of sources of police stress were discussed and the coping skills various officers displayed. There can be little argument that stress damages health and that stress can lead to poor family and work performance. The study showed that the highest predictors of stress were destructive coping and family work conflict (spillover). Destructive coping would involve excessive drinking, excessive eating, illegal or prescription drug abuse for example. Family work conflict would be where the problems of the familial unit effect the job performance of the worker. All groups surveyed indicated that they were equally effected by spillover. However, male officers had the poorest constructive coping while female officers had the highest constructive coping. So we have the possibility of a male police officer who is stressed already about his family strife effecting his job, now coping destructively because he lacks the skills to constructively cope with the domestic situation.
Throw into the situation that he will lose his weapon as soon as his wife makes a claim and that the weapon, in the State of NJ will not be returned for 45 days and you have a recipe for disaster the likes of which we already saw in the previously discussed scenario. We have a male officer ill equipped to deal with a law that is out of his hands and must be adhered to. We can try to amend the law . But arguments are being made, for example, that gun control laws are a feminist issue. In Generation Progress in the article “ gun control laws are a feminist issue” they cited the need to strip weapons from the hands of every male accused of domestic violence and that feminist groups should be present at every legislative hearing to make their voices heard. With this kind of pressure, there’s little likelihood that the law will be amended by the legislators. It will be up to the courts to decide the issue.
To make matters worse many spouses file false accusations against their spouses which are impossible for police to disprove. False swearing is a criminal offense hard to prove under domestic violence procedures. More times than not, when the spouse/accuser finds that she is being scrutinized and the veracity of her accusations questioned, she will withdraw the complaint. Unfortunately that's where it ends. And with complaint withdrawal being for a variety of reasons, the courts are just as happy to end the proceedings with no questions asked. After all, they are overwhelmed with these cases as it is and one less lightens their caseload. She gets to punish her spouse, put him through the wringer, and walk away with no penalty incurred. If they end up in court repeatedly, he's the one labeled a chronic abuser instead of her being labelled a chronic accuser.
We can’t change the situation or climate surrounding domestic violence accusations. We can change the officer through training. In the International Associations of Chiefs of Police in the paper entitled “Discussion Paper IACP’s Police On Domestic Violence by Police Officer” the association recommended as one of the steps of addressing police domestic violence, that training and confidential counseling services and /or referrals should be utilized. As studies have shown, male officers, for example, have shown poor constructive coping skills ( Journal of Criminal Justice). These are skills that can be strengthened, upon being discovered by supervisors trained to detect these problems, through training and counseling. Of course we shouldn’t assume a male officer or any other officer has poor coping skills until observed and documented by a supervisor. The IACP hoped that through this training and prevention, an officer’s career could be salvaged before it became necessary to arrest him/her and to prevent the tragedies we have discussed. Doling out punishment to teach officers adherence to the law may be needed in some cases, but reliance on that as the only means to make change is short sighted. Consideration of the IACP Policy should be given equal consideration and should balance out the punishment of the Lautenberg Act.
About the Author: Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence. This book is now (2009) in it’s second edition and available via amazon.com in softcover and hardcover from Praeger/Greenwood Publishing. The first edition was published in 1997. He has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews Channel, O’Reilly Factor, Montel, Sally and many other national and local television and radio shows, as well as the National Associated Press. He is the co-author of articles in the “Journal for Human Behavior in the Social Environment,” “The Journal of Elder Abuse” and other Journals and anthology books. He is a member of the advisory board to www.nfvlrc.org. His website is www.abusedmen.com This essay contains excerpts from the second edition of the book.