9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Domestic Violence in America; How to Handle the Call & Recognize the Effects

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, November 2014
Written by Dorothy Cave, NREMT, EMD Program Manager at the APCO Institute

Our continuing dispatch education article this month is nothing short of a touchy subject.  As telecommunicators, you may know someone who is a victim of domestic violence - that person may even be you and no one else knows, or you don't think they do.  As a telecommunicator, you hear these calls way too often: you hear the screams, the crying children, the punches, the gun shots.  How does this affect you?

We should start this lesson by learning what domestic violence is.  According to the website domesticviolence.org, "Domestic violence and emotional abuse are behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other.  Partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay or lesbian; living together, separated or dating."  Why do you need to know what domestic violence is?  It's important to know this information when asking questions and getting the answers.  Just because you have a man and woman fighting in the street, that does not always mean you have a domestic violence situation.  You have to be able to differentiate between a domestic violence call and a run-of-the-mill fight.  Is that always possible?  No, it's not; so if you cannot come to an educated conclusion, make sure you follow your policies and procedures.

Who Does Domestic Violence Happen To?
Domestic violence happens to people of every race, gender, economic status, religion, educational background and age.  It does not discriminate.

For example in recent news, Ray Rice, NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, was initially only suspended for two games.  This came after being filmed dragging his then-fiance, now-wife, from an elevator after knocking her unconscious.  The NFL has since changed its stance on domestic violence following the arrest of another player, the San Francisco 49er's Ray McDonald, who was suspected of domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend.  The league's disciplinary action against domestic violence offenders now is a six game suspension for the first offense, and the second offense results in being banned for life.  As of Sept. 8, 2014, Ray Rice was cut from the Ravens and banned from the NFL; this came after the entire video from the elevator was released showing the punch that was thrown by Rice.

Celebrities from every type of entertainment have been arrested on domestic violence charges; actors, racecar drivers, even Yanni, the king of elevator music!  Women can also be arrested for domestic violence.  Since just about anyone may be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence, this leads us to our own back yard: emergency responders.

In 2007, we as an industry watched the disappearance of Georgia telecommunicator Theresa Parker play out in the news, only to find out that she had been murdered by her estranged husband, a sergeant with the same department she dispatched for, who killed her and disposed of her body.  He was ultimately found guilty or murder and sentenced to life in prison.  There were at least three domestic violence reports between the couple before her death.

Why Does Domestic Violence Happen?
After reading the previous paragraph we understand that domestic violence happens, now let's examine why it happens.  According to the National Coalition Agains Domestic Violence (NCADV), there are several reasons.

Statistics show that one of the strongest risk factors for children to continue the pattern of domestic violence is to witness violence between parents, caretakers, grandparents, etc.  Men who witness violence are twice as likely to abuse their partners.  Women who witness violence are more likely to become victims, presumably because this is normal to them.  Once adults, 30-60% of domestic violence offenders will also abuse children in their own household.

Domestic violence is frequently associated with sexual assault.  One in six women have experienced an attempted or completed rape at the hands of a domestic violence offender.  That's nearly 7.8 million women who have been raped by an intimate partner.  Sexual assault and/or forced sexual encounters against women and men happen in 40-45% of domestic violence relationships.

Now let's talk about the men who are the victims in domestic violence relationships.  As telecommunicators, we don't really think of them as being the victim, but one in 33 men have experienced attempted or completed rape.  How do we handle the calls for service when it's a man calling?  You handle all calls the same way, male or female.  Show empathy to the situation, express concern and project a desire to help.

Stalking is another contributing factor to domestic violence.  One in 12 women and one in 45 men have been stalked.  Additionally, 81% of women who are or have been stalked as a result of a domestic violence relationship were also physically assaulted at the hands of the domestic violence offender; 31% of these women were sexually assaulted during the stalking phase.

When domestic violence goes too far, as was the case with Theresa Parker, homicide is often the result and the statistics are astounding.  One-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.  Yet less than one-fifth of injured victims of domestic violence sought medical assistance.  Why do you think that is?  Fear?  Embarrassment?  Manipulation?

Aside from the physical consequences of domestic violence, there's also a psychological aspect.  In the U.S. alone there are more than 18.5 million mental health care visits due to domestic violence.  This brings us to the monetary impact domestic violence has on society and the economy.  Statistics state that domestic violence victims lost nearly 8 million days of paid work due to injuries, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.  Between homicides and treated injuries, the cost annually for domestic violence is $37 billion.  How much higher would that number be if all injuries were reported and treated?

Myth vs. Reality
Now that we have revealed information about who is affected and the cost, we can learn about some myths and facts of domestic violence.

     Myth #1: Anyone can leave if the situation is too bad.  Many telecommunicators, maybe even you, have said, "Just leave."
     Fact: The fact is that leaving is not always easy to do.  There are financial reasons, love, or perhaps the victim has tried before and it went very poorly.
     Myth #2: Domestic violence only happens to poor, uneducated and minority families.
     Fact: As discussed earlier, domestic abusers can be football players, actors, sergeants and so on.
There are so many more myths and truths about domestic violence we could go on for pages, but we need to talk about you, the telecommunicator.  How does domestic violence affect you?

Effects on Telecommunicators
In a medical paper titled Emergency Responder Exhaustion Syndrome, the authors conclude that dispatchers "normalize reactions to acute and chronic stress."  There are several reasons  for this behavior in comm centers across the country, including peer pressure stating you should not get too close to the caller and the daily occurrence of this type of call.

How many times have you heard a communications training officer tell trainees to grow thicker skin?  Most telecommunicators have been trained to not take calls personally, but we all know there are times when this is easier said than done.  Knowing that the telecommunicators' job is stressful and unpredictable, we must develop the emotional resources to help cope with calls and situations.

Those who don't have an adequate coping mechanism can show signs of stress such as emotional detachment, alcohol or drug abuse, ulcers, cynicism, absenteeism, marital problems and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  How do you know if you may be developing PTSD?  Some of the symptoms are nightmares about the incident, difficulty concentrating and emotional instability.  How can you combat this disease?  Talk to someone about the calls that bother you, especially if you feel any of the PTSD symptoms or have feelings of suicide because you no longer feel you can cope or feel you are in some way responsible for the victim's death.  Remember; You are not responsible.

As 9-1-1 telecommunicators, you must abide by your policies and procedures when handling domestic violence calls.  Trainers should specifically teach trainees to handle this type of call.  For example, everyone should know what to do with the call if the victim calls in and the offender picks up the phone.  How do you handle it if they ask who you are?  That all starts at the beginning when you realize what kind of call you have.

This article is written to show telecommunicators what domestic violence is, how it can affect you and how to handle the calls when you receive them.  We spoke about those who call during the domestic violence, but this also goes for you, the telecommunicator.  If you or someone you love is in this type of relationship, please get out and get help.

Handling the Call
We're reviewed statistics and examples of celebrities, first responders and the general public who have been involved with domestic violence.  Now let's dive into what the 9-1-1 calls are like, how to recognize them and how you should handle them.

Take for example the August 2014 suspension of a dispatcher in St. Louis who was suspended without pay after entering a mistaken address into the CAD system - a mistake that led officers blocks away from where two people were shot and killed.  According to police, a woman was with a male friend inside her apartment when her boyfriend arrived.  The boyfriend assaulted the woman, but a groundskeeper for the apartment building intervened, and the boyfriend left.  Someone dialed 9-1-1 and spoke to the telecommunicator, who entered a wrong address.  Officers were dispatched, and while they were investigating at the other location, the boyfriend returned and fatally shot the woman and male friend.  In a statement, the St. Louis police chief later said, "The department expects precision and diligence when answering and dispatching 9-1-1 calls, and any accusations of employee misconduct are taken very seriously."

This incident identifies one key area on any call for service: The need to verify the location of the emergency.  It also brings to the forefront the importance of having specific policies and procedures in place for different types of calls received.

Let's consider another scenario: You are the calltaker on duty and receive a call from a woman who starts with this sentence: "Hey girl, when are we supposed to get together?"  Most calltakers would again state the agency name and inform the caller they are calling 9-1-1.  In return the caller says, "I know that but I think I forgot our lunch date!"

At this point the calltaker should understand that they are now in the midst of role playing with the caller.  First thing's first: You have to ensure you have the correct location to send responders.  Next, find out who you are supposed to be in this scenario.  Why do you need that information?  Because the offender could grab the phone from the victim and ask who you are.  If you say one thing and the victim says another, this could accelerate the violence for the victim.  As the calltaker, you have to continue with the role playing until help arrives for the victim.

One important factor to keep in mind is that even if the victim calls for help, they may not be ready to get out of the abusive relationship.  This can be an especially confusing scenario, so let's clarify further.

As a telecommunicator, you should take it upon yourself to talk to some of your first responders.  Ask about situations when they respond to a frantic victim calling, but then clear up with no report and no arrest.  There will be incidents in which the abuser is the breadwinner in the house.  Most victims are "taught" to believe they are not worthy or smart enough to hold a job; they may be convinced that no one cares if they are abused.  They may be totally dependent on the abuser, or feel they can't leave because they don't have the financial means.

There are several difficult factors to understand when taking these types of calls.  First, always follow your policies and procedures.  Second, if you feel you are having trouble coping with the calls in the comm center, seek help and talk to someone.  PTSD is not just for field responders.  Third, if you or someone you love is in this type of situation, please get help.

If you or a loved one is involved in any type of a domestic violence relationship, contact your local authorities or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-1233, or 1-800-787-3224(TTY)24/7.

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