Nix, J. (1998). To Protect and Abuse: An exploratory study discussing intimate partners of police as victims of domestic abuse. Paper presented at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Seminar No. 4, 4 June.
Presenter: Jennifer Nix
Jennifer Nix is a former research intern at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
Date: 4 June 1998
Venue: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Johannesburg, South Africa
Ramona Samuels,1 33, was killed on December 1, 1994. Almost three years later, her husband, Edward Samuels, a constable in the Mitchell's Plain SAPS, was convicted of culpable homicide for her death. He shot her in the back, six times. Throughout the trial, he maintained that she was coming at him with a knife, and he was acting in self-defence. A few months before her murder, Ramona (called Mona by her family and friends), had obtained an interdict through the Prevention of Family Violence Act against her husband. She had moved out of the house and had begun divorce proceedings. On the Monday before her death, Edward had been convicted of violating the interdict and was sentenced to six months community service.
No one, except Mona and Edward, knows when the abuse began. In 1985, Mona made her first official complaint against her husband with the Minister of Transport, where Edward was working as a highway policeman. The complaint was passed back and forth between the Ministries of Transport, Justice, and Law and Order. Nothing ever came of it. Later, Mona complained to Edward's supervisor and requested that his gun be removed. The supervisor turned down the request, telling Mona that Edward had not yet committed a crime.
Edward Samuels has not spent any time in jail. He was sentenced on March 10 1997 to four years imprisonment. However, he is appealing the sentence and has been released on R2 500 bail. Even when he was arrested for shooting his wife, he did not sit in a jail cell, but waited in the station with his colleagues and friends. His supervisor, who took him home that night and then sent him to the psychiatric hospital for two weeks, paid his R500 bail. According to the family, Edward has not lost his job as a constable but is merely suspended. If he does not serve any jail time, he will not lose his job.
This case, while tragic, is not atypical of abuse in relationships. It stands out because the perpetrator, Edward Samuels, is a police officer. This case, however, is not unique. Domestic abuse by police members occurs in South Africa, often with the knowledge and complicity of other police members.
The purpose of this paper is three-fold: to describe the problem of domestic abuse in police families within the context of domestic abuse in South Africa; to highlight particular aspects of domestic abuse by police members by giving voice to some of the survivors2 and victims and from this discussion, to offer a few suggestions to improve the situation of police partners3 in abusive relationships.
Information for this study was collected through interviews, questionnaires and newspaper articles. Fourteen informal, open-ended interviews were held between September 1997 and January 1998 with support workers for survivors of abuse, a former magistrate, a member of the SAPS Psychological Services and the SAPS Social Services, a member of the Gauteng Secretariat for Safety and Security, a police wife and the family of Mona Samuels. The informants were chosen for their knowledge and experience in the areas of domestic violence, policing and police stress.
A questionnaire was distributed to a total of 11 women's organisations; six in Gauteng, three in Cape Town, one in Durban and one in East London. These areas were chosen for the high number of women's organisations in the area. Other areas were omitted due to lack of knowledge about support organisations in the area. All of the areas surveyed are urban areas. The questionnaire was sent out with the instructions that counsellors were to identify current clients whose partners were police members and ask them to fill out the questionnaire with the help of the counsellor, if there were issues of translation. The aim of the questionnaire was to obtain stories from the women themselves, their problems and needs, and to look for commonalities among them. It contained a mixture of open and closed questions.
This study is merely exploratory. The small response size for the questionnaires prevents it from being representative of women abused by police officers or battered women in general. Additionally, the nature of the source of the information, services for battered women, also prevents the sample from being representative. Battered women's organisations seem to see very serious cases of abuse.4 Another factor is the areas surveyed. All of the areas where questionnaires were sent were urban areas. Nothing about the experience of rural women has been addressed, which will also limit the discussion.
Additionally, there were no police members or abusers included in the interviewees. As the focus of this discussion is on the women's experiences, rather than the abusers, this omission does not necessarily detract from the validity of the study. However it does render the discussion on the motives of police abusers speculative.
Domestic Abuse: Definitions and issues
Domestic abuse takes several forms and has several terms and definitions. It has also been referred to as domestic violence, wife abuse, wife-beating, and family violence. While these terms sometimes overlap, they all have slightly different meanings and connotations. Domestic abuse is more encompassing and will be used throughout this discussion. Women who are abused are referred to as "abused" and "battered" and men who abuse are referred to as "abusers" and "batterers". These terms also have slightly different meanings – battered or batterer refers more to physical violence. Abused and abuser covers other forms of abuse, besides physical. "Abused" and "abuser" will be used predominantly throughout this paper.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as including but not limited to "physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation."5 Within this context is domestic abuse. People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) in Johannesburg refers to four categories of domestic abuse: emotional, physical, financial and sexual. Emotional abuse includes threats, name-calling, and put- downs. Physical abuse can include hitting, kicking, choking and pushing. Sexual abuse is rape, forcing her to have sex in ways she doesn't like, forcing her to have sex with others, and coercing her into sex. Financial abuse includes taking her money, making her ask for money, spending household money on other things or not working and expecting her to support the family.6 This is the definition that will be used in this discussion.
Incidence of Domestic Abuse in South Africa
Domestic abuse and violence against women in South Africa is widespread and common. It has been described as "endemic"7 and is argued to be "increasingly considered normative rather than deviant" and part of the culture of violence.8 People Opposing Women Abuse estimates that one woman in six is abused by her partner.9 Advice Desk for Abused Women estimates that 60 percent of women are abused by their partners.10 Often, the injuries from domestic abuse can be severe, even fatal. A 1995 study on intimate femicide, the murder of women by their intimate partners, estimated that in Gauteng every six days a woman is killed by her partner.11
There is little research in South Africa emphasising the occupation of the abuser. Domestic abuse occurs in all occupations, social classes and economic classes. However, in the study of intimate femicide, 1 out of 5 perpetrators were policemen.12 In the United States, Federal Bureau of Investigations statistics revealed that "policing has the highest proportion of batterers of all US occupations. In 1995, 40% of police asked told the FBI they'd used physical force with a partner in the last year."13
Police intervention in domestic abuse
Women turn to the law for protection and assistance. In South Africa, a woman may obtain an interdict in terms of the Prevention of Family Violence Act and may lay a charge against her husband, if necessary. Both acts require the assistance of the police. The Prevention of Family Violence interdict requires that the police arrest a man if he has violated the interdict, holding him in jail for up to 24 hours.
In laying a charge, the woman must go to the police station or call the police, make a statement to the police and then potentially testify in court. The police must conduct an investigation. She may lay a charge when she or someone else has called the police during a beating and the police come to the house. There is a range of charges that she may lay, including assault common, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, rape and crimera injurea.
Police reactions and attitudes towards the domestic abuse situation is an issue that has come under much scrutiny. An American study from 1990 indicated that personal approval of marital violence was the only factor that significantly affected police response to domestic abuse. "The more a police officer believes marital violence to be justifiable or acceptable, the more inclined is that officer to respond negatively to a domestic assault."14
Battered women's actions are affected by police attitudes. In one study, half the battered women surveyed "reported that police encouragement was a major factor motivating them to request a restraining order."15 Alternatively when police attitudes towards survivors were perceived to be negative, the survivors were more likely to report feelings of self-blame.16 Edna Erez found, in her study, that police officers that side with and identify with the abuser may actually exacerbate the situation.17 She also found that police officials who are supportive and understanding to the survivor's situation, can assist the survivor in overcoming her difficulties to reach a solution.18
Police attitudes towards domestic abuse as a private matter affects the policing of domestic abuse. Often, police view a domestic abuse incident as a family fight or a "normal man and wife argument" where the police role is to "cool a situation out or diffuse it."19 If police do not view investigating domestic abuse complaints as proper police work, they may refer women to a lawyer or tell her simply to leave. They may not see the assault as a criminal act and may be reluctant to take a statement or facilitate the woman in laying a charge.
Why do Men Abuse?
A full discussion on why men abuse is not within the scope of this paper. However, there are points regarding abusers that cannot be ignored as they have relevance in discussing why abuse occurs. Many abusers share a tendency to blame others for their behaviour, belief in male privilege and a rigid sex role belief system.20 Not all of these characteristics are present in all abusers. One of the core characteristics of abusers is, however, a need for power and control.
Some explanations, though not necessarily reasons, as to why a man may abuse his wife include stress, alcohol or drug abuse, an imbalance between the spouses and a general attitude of acceptance of violence, particularly towards women. Some of these factors have been shown to have some bearing when discussing why men abuse. Many men claim that they were "out of control". Interestingly, most abusers limit their violence to the home and to their intimate partner – they can control themselves in other situations but not in the home. This reasoning leads one to believe that abusers do not "lose" control but "choose" control.21
Domestic Abuse by Police: The survivors' experiences
For the respondents to the questionnaire as well as reports from counsellors, domestic abuse by the police covered all forms of domestic abuse. Five of the respondents were called names. Seven were physically hit. Three were choked. Six were made to ask for money. Six were forced to have sex when they didn't want to.
Eight respondents had to go to the doctor for treatment for injuries sustained during beatings. Four ended up in hospital. Two mentioned that their husbands refused to pay maintenance for the children.
One of the issues of particular concern to police partners is the death threats, particularly when the woman was threatened with the service weapon. This will be highlighted shortly. Eight of the respondents had received death threats. Six women were threatened with weapons, five of which were guns and four of which were the police gun. In four cases, the man actually tried to kill the woman.
Also of concern is the difficulties women face when seeking help, especially when dealing with other police members. This will also be addressed later in this discussion.
Death threats and service weapons
Mona Samuels was shot to death. At the trial, her daughter Ingrid testified that Edward had shot at her mother once before and threatened to kill her and the children. According to Ingrid, who was about 10 or 11 at the time, she and her brother had been sleeping in their mother's bed when their father came home. Mona hurried the children off to their own beds, but Ingrid remained awake. She said she could hear them fighting then saw her mother run past her room, her father chasing her, swearing at her. He stopped and shot at Mona but she had opened a cabinet door in front of her to protect herself and the bullet hit the door. Then Edward grabbed Mona, turned the gun around and began to beat her with the butt of the gun. He kicked her a few times and then went out and got a spade and continued to beat her with the spade. When Ingrid asked him the next day why he was beating her mommy, he said that her mommy wasn't listening to him and he was going to kill her, Ingrid and her brother and then himself. Edward denied that the incident ever took place. Mona tried to have the gun removed but was not successful.22
"Barbara", the wife of a former police member who was never physically abused but witnessed many incidents of abuse, was also threatened with a gun, though by her brother-in-law, also a police officer. He would turn his gun on Barbara and her daughter "just for fun".23 He also shot at his wife once but according to Barbara, she did not see it as abuse and never laid charges.
At one time, "Thandi", a survivor in East London who had been married to a policeman for 14 years, was also threatened with her husband's service weapon. She managed to overpower him and keep him from shooting her. At other times, she was beaten on the head with the service weapon.24
"Cynthia", a survivor in Cape Town, was unsuccessful in getting her husband's gun removed after he threatened to kill her and the children.25
A constable in East London shot his detective ex-wife to death in 1996 at the police station. He had been prohibited from carrying a weapon outside of work. At the time of the murder, there were charges pending against him of assault and of illegally discharging a pistol in the police barracks, leaving one to imagine that he had threatened her with a gun prior to the murder.26
Sonia Schwarz, a policewoman in East London, removed all of the firearms from her home for fear her husband, Station Commissioner Dave Schwarz would kill her. He killed her with an axe a few weeks later.27
A Cape Town counsellor spoke of a client whose husband threatened her with his service weapon. The woman had problems convincing his superiors to remove the gun. When they finally did and the gun was confiscated, the man began threatening the client with his personal weapon, which had not been removed.
Francois Botha, a former Mitchell's Plain magistrate, would order police weapons confiscated from abusers, only to have them reinstated to the men shortly thereafter. He remarked that it is extremely difficult to remove police weapons for any extended period of time. If a police officer cannot carry a gun, he cannot work on the streets and must be relegated to an administrative job or must retire.
Survivors of abuse by police officers, in theory, have the same options as other survivors. For example, they can lay an assault charge, get an interdict or peace order, leave the abuser, get a divorce, speak to the family, or go for counselling and try to deal with the abuse. The appropriate option depends on the abuser and on her. She may be too terrified or ashamed to seek any help. Consulting a women's support group or another outside group is often a last resort for women. Given the isolation surrounding domestic abuse, many women try to keep it to themselves or try and solve the problem with family help.
"Rebecca", a 36-year-old domestic worker from East London, first tried speaking to her husband's father. She did not want to lay an assault charge, even though her husband had kicked her, stabbed her and threatened to kill her. Speaking to his father proved useless, however, as her husband intimidated his father and beat Rebecca in his father's presence.28
"Mary", also a domestic worker in East London, tried speaking to an aunt because her husband "did not want to listen to anyone else".29 When her aunt could not help, she decided to move back in with her mother.
The assistance a support organisation can give is varied. For some women, support and counselling is all that they need. For others, a support organisation can offer more concrete assistance, such as help in obtaining an interdict or laying a charge. When the abuser is a police officer and the woman has attempted to lay a charge, it is often women's organisations that get better results than the women themselves. Several counsellors reported that advocacy for the woman seemed to be the catalyst that began the criminal justice procedure.30 If a docket was said to be "lost" or a woman was blocked from laying a charge with the charge office, a phone call from a counsellor sometimes rendered the docket "found" or circumvented the charge office process.31
Mona Samuels never told her family about the abuse and did not seek help again for almost 10 years, after the initial failed attempt in the beginning. Her brother, George, found out only three months before her death. When her family asked about a blue eye or a bruise, she would make up stories claiming to have walked into a door or tripped. She also lied to her doctor about the abuse, making up a story for each visit.
Mona's reasons for not telling her family or seeking help are common. She seemed ashamed of the abuse, afraid that he would hurt her worse if she left and was reluctant to leave her children without a father.32
Other respondents reported similar reasons as well as reasons like "I didn't think anyone would do anything about it since he is a policeman"33 and "I didn't want him to lose his job"34 and "I tried once but he made me drop the charges."35
Some women who may be at the end of their tolerance may take another, tragic option taking the law into their own hands. Elizabeth Phala is serving a 25-year sentence for the murder of her husband, a police officer. She had repeatedly asked for help from family, religious leaders and the police and was sent back home, to more beatings, every time. She ended up in hospitals three times after beatings. Giving up after receiving so little help, Elizabeth went to some men she knew and asked that he be punished. They killed him and she was sentenced to 25 years in prison.36
Problems encountered from the SAPS
One of the complaints cited most often by respondents and counsellors regarding police domestic abuse was the lack of co-operation and assistance from the SAPS. Many women reported that nothing happened with their cases and they were given very little support. Police officers sometimes refused to take charges against a fellow policeman or blocked the survivor's attempts to contact the station commander.37 When the police were called, the responding police spoke to the abuser or even shook his hand and greeted him as a friend. Women were sometimes given the run-around and referred onward until they gave up.
Police would discourage women from laying charges against colleagues and ignore police verbally abusing their wives. There have been accusations of police losing dockets. A Human Rights Watch report refers to the case of a woman married to a police officer whose charges of assault and divorce proceedings were delayed due to lost papers. "She believes the delay is due to the fact that the files have been destroyed by friends of her husband at the court."38
"Thandi" expressed the frustration of many survivors when she said that "the police should have accepted my complaint and not referred me to their seniors."39 She repeatedly went to the police station to lay a charge and was referred to the station commander by the charge office personnel because her husband was stationed at that station. The station commander was unavailable. She finally met with the senior officer on duty and lodged a complaint. The senior officer tried to speak with her husband but later withdrew, "saying it was a private, domestic matter."40 Thandi believes that her husband also intimidated the senior officer. Her husband told her that he would never go to jail because he is a policeman.
"Sarah", the wife of a police officer in Cape Town, who once ended up in hospital with a fractured skull from a beating, called the police several times. No action was ever taken. When she spoke to a captain at her husband's station, she simply took his side and did nothing. The police said "it was a domestic matter … because my husband is a police officer, they would not do anything to help me."41 She says she will never ask the SAPS for help. She has learned that "they always stand by their colleagues, irrespective if they are wrong."42
"Cynthia", also in Cape Town, tried speaking to the Station Commander after her husband threatened to kill her and the children with his gun. She said the Station Commander was unhelpful. "He was protecting my husband."43
"Jane", who is separated from her superintendent husband after 20 years together, did not file an assault charge against her husband when he gave her a blue eye, a broken lip and a fractured cheekbone. She "felt he would just get angrier and nothing would come of it."44 She never spoke to anyone at the SAPS about the abuse because "she did not trust that anyone would do anything about it."45
One police officer in Cape Town would let his colleagues sit outside his house while he beat his wife. The men never did anything but sit there. The police officer would taunt his wife, telling her, "call the police, they're right there." The woman was intimidated and could do nothing.46
Within the ranks
"Barbara", the wife of a former police member, lived in the police barracks for several years and witnessed several incidents of abuse. As a fellow police wife, she was part of a sisterhood, which tends to keep things within the group and can be resentful to outside intrusion. Police barracks are a unique place as settings for domestic abuse, which tends to be private and behind closed doors. The barracks, which are crowded and close together, may allow for behaviour which is not necessarily typical. Barbara's husband's family are also police members and she has witnessed and experienced several, sometimes bizarre incidents of abuse.
One time, in the barracks, there was a big noisy fight happening between a husband and wife. She was holding the baby, and he was slapping her and yelling at her. Finally, he just picked up a poodle and shot it. Everybody just hushed up after that. The police close ranks.47
Barbara herself was never physically abused by her husband, though she explains that "I had little control or say … I was always told, "mustn't rock the boat, they will punish 'J' (her husband). If I complained, it would be petty."48 She emphasised that police culture does not allow for outside involvement and the police close ranks when something occurs that may not be good for the unit, which coincides with other reports of police culture and police families.
You would hear from the wives, 'oh, my husband was drunk again'. It was just a topic of gossip, they had no options. They would compare stories and say 'Shame, its not so bad'. They would close ranks and keep it within the community. If they went to the chaplain, he would say things like, 'pray more, go to church, good things come to those who wait, turn the other cheek'.49
Mona Samuels was abused in front of her husband's friends. During one particular incident, the other police officers did nothing but stand around and laugh. During this beating, when Edward began beating Mona, she tried to get away by getting in the car. However, Mona couldn't drive the car and wasn't going very fast. Edward grabbed onto the car door and ran with the car, until Mona stopped. He pulled her out by her hair and began beating her and kicking her.50
Twice the police were called. The first time, Mona called the police. An officer showed up but was a friend of Edward's and shook his hand, talking to him and saying 'ah man, you must not treat your wife like that.' Another time, Ingrid, their daughter, called the police. When the police showed up, after a very long time, they simply knocked at the door and left, when Edward informed them that nothing was wrong and it must have been a mistake.51
Francois Botha, a former magistrate in Mitchell's Plain, said that loyalty between police officers never ceased to amaze him when he was a magistrate. Marietjie Fourie, a former policewoman and now with the Ministry of Safety and Security agreed.
If there was a violation of an interdict, maybe they would go to the scene and talk to the man if he was a colleague or even take him to the police station, but I doubt that they would arrest him or lock him up. They might go through the whole process but never actually hold him.52
Edward Samuels received much support from police colleagues after he shot Mona. He was never held in jail, his bail was paid immediately by his supervisor and he stayed at his supervisor's house after the shooting. During the trial, other police colleagues came forward to say they knew nothing of the abuse.53
When a charge is laid against a police officer or a complaint is made, there is an internal investigation. Most charges made against police officers are sent to the Attorney General's office. The internal investigation can be lengthy, with no immediate effects. The criminal investigation is carried out by the investigating police, and can also be lengthy. Several women killed by their police officer partners had charges pending or interdicts against their partners at the time of their deaths. A criminal charge against a police officer, whether from his wife or a stranger, will have a detrimental effect on his career. Rudashni Petres remarked that "often police members are extremely worried about assault convictions and will beg their wives and girlfriends not to lay a charge."54
The inherent tendency to protect one's colleagues from outside criticism may be intensified in cases of domestic abuse. Mr Daniels remarked "There's a culture of police officers being unsympathetic to women. I think they would probably be uneasy if the perpetrator is a colleague."55 As Marietjie Fourie commented, "Women probably wouldn't go to the police station where her husband works … the very brave ones might go to see the officer's bosses. Police officers and station commissioners will believe policemen over the women, especially when the policeman is a station commissioner."56
Explanations for the Abuse
Many of the informants for this study mentioned reasons which they felt may, in part, explain domestic abuse by police members. The two issues that were most mentioned were police stress and police attitudes. Another factor mentioned was the general structure of the police service. One informant believed that the authoritarian and military structure of the police service cultivates an acceptance of domestic abuse.57 The position of authority that police hold in our society and their occupational need to control a situation had some bearing on the amount of domestic abuse within the police service, she felt. Much of this discussion is, admittedly, speculative. However, based on the perceptions and experiences of the informants, as well as current literature on the subject, a tentative discussion can begin to help us with solutions to the problem of police domestic abuse.
Police attitudes to domestic abuse
Domestic abuse used to be treated as a civil matter – people would be advised to go to a lawyer, but it would not be handled by the police force. If a woman wanted to open an assault case, they would not necessarily do it.58
Survivors' responses to the questionnaire reflected these attitudes. Thandi was told that the abuse "was a private domestic matter."59 Sarah called the police several times during beatings. According to Sarah, the usual reaction by the police was to do nothing. "They said it was a domestic matter and we must sort it out ourselves."60
Thandi added that "there was a general consensus that it was a family matter which should be solved by the extended family and in-laws."61 She called the police on four separate occasions when her husband was abusing her. Their usual reaction was to refer her "to the family as they said it was a family matter."62
When "Sylvia" who is separated from her partner of two years, called the police, "they told her to sort it out herself because it was a situation between man and wife."63 She has tried going to the SAPS and found them completely unhelpful. When asked how she would feel about going to the SAPS for assistance, she said "I don't even want to ask the SAPS for help."64
Several support workers also remarked on police attitudes regarding women and domestic abuse. Many agreed that police attitudes are a huge obstacle for women seeking help. A counsellor from Rape Crisis felt "The police are probably the biggest problem with domestic violence. It's completely acceptable to believe that women are a bunch of whiny, nagging, horrible bitches and they should be kept in their place."65 Faeza Khan supported this idea, saying that many "police have really ingrained attitudes about their roles in society, especially about men's and women's roles in society … there's a lot of traditional thinking that the husband is entitled to beat his wife."66
An evaluation of gender sensitivity training done in South Africa with the police found that most of the police trainees in the training held "paternalistic and stereotypical views about men and women."67
Interestingly, attitudes towards other forms of violence against women, such as rape, may be slightly different than domestic abuse. Bronwyn Pithy from Rape Crisis in Cape Town illustrated the difference with an anecdote from a joint training she had done for police officers on domestic abuse and rape. The first half of the day was on rape and the second half of the day was devoted to domestic abuse. Ms Pithy was surprised at the change in attitude from the morning's session on rape, which had gone well, to the afternoon session, on domestic abuse.
This very same group of police officers who were actually very responsive to rape stuff were extremely difficult around domestic abuse. They just would not listen to it.68
Attitudes towards domestic abuse as a less important crime and sometimes justified may explain, in part, the difficulties survivors of police domestic abuse encounter when they seek help. Police who are themselves abusers need to justify domestic abuse. In Britain, "a Woman's Aid worker explained that policemen (and she emphasised 'men') have a vested interest in not treating violence in the home as a serious crime. "We've had two policemen's wives in here recently. If a policeman is battering his wife about and a woman goes to him for help, well I mean!"69
A police officer who abuses his wife will have very little sympathy for another woman who is being abused and is in need of help. Marietjie Fourie felt that "if a police officer is an abuser, he'll be even more insensitive to the woman's situation and will chase her out of the charge office."70 Anshu Padayachee of the Advice Desk for Abused Women commented in the Human Rights Watch report that "Police husbands, from captain to major, are armed and feel they are a law unto themselves."71 In an American study, police spouses complained that "some police officers extend the 'professional courtesy' of not formalising spousal complaints of domestic abuse in the homes of other officers."72 This "professional courtesy" regarding domestic abuse again denigrates domestic abuse to the same realm as traffic violations. Domestic abuse is not taken seriously by police either externally or internally.
For police abusers, stress is a commonly used excuse. Policing is a stressful and dangerous job, particularly in South Africa where 924 police were killed between 1994 and 1997.73 The violence of South African society combined with the frustrations of a lack of a resources and little financial compensation creates an incredibly stressful situation. There is little in the way of support services for SAPS members. Debriefing is offered but is underused. Social workers are also understaffed and are perceived to be non-confidential. Outside counselling is expensive and not considered manly. Police are generally considered to be highly traumatised individuals. There are few outlets at work for a police officer to let out his anger and "police officers experiencing trauma may then let out their anger at home."74 Police members may excuse their own violence saying that they needed an outlet.75 Women will also make excuses for their partners and their abuse, particularly if he has a job as stressful as policing.
However, stress cannot be considered a reason for abusive behaviour, but an excuse which denies the abuser full responsibility for his actions or a justification, which may allow the abuser some responsibility but denies or trivialises the wrongness of the violence.76 Because domestic abuse is generally considered wrong and shameful, abusers need to justify their behaviour, to make their actions less hurtful and wrong. Alcohol or drug abuse is often used as an excuse for domestic abuse, which also absolves the abuser of any responsibility over the abuse. By emphasising that police members are under stress and from that, concluding that stress is the reason they abuse their wives, the effect of power and control in domestic abuse is minimised. We also forget that the intimate female partners are often the primary targets for the abuse. Additionally, we fail to acknowledge that many police members who are also under the same amount of or more stress, do not abuse their wives and girlfriends.77 Stress is also difficult to measure and studies regarding stress as a factor have been mixed in their results.78
While there may be some kind of correlation between the amount of stress a man is under and his abuse of his wife, no concrete link has yet been found. Unfortunately, stress is a justification that is easy to accept and understand and is often used, nonetheless.
For example, Sonia Schwarz was hacked to death with an axe in October 1997. She was killed by her husband, Dave Schwarz, who had been promoted to Station Commander the previous year. Dave was reported to have been experiencing difficulties with his new job and to have been under extreme stress. Apparently, the abuse had intensified with his new promotion. A month earlier, Sonia, who was a police officer at the same station, laid an assault charge against her husband. The charge was being investigated at the time of her death. Shortly before the murder, she removed all of the firearms from the house. After hacking his wife to death, he turned himself in, saying, "I've hurt my wife." Members of the SAPS in the area blamed the stress of his new job for her death. A newspaper quoted a colleague stating, "The strain on him was obvious. And it was clearly having an impact on his personal life."79
Police culture is a term that describes aspects of policing that seem to be common for many different "rank and file" police services. The South African Police Service also subscribes to many characteristics of police culture: a sense of mission (maintaining the thin blue line that separates order and anarchy), a combination of suspicion and paranoia, the isolation of the police as a community within a community, "conservatism", a gender- based chauvinism (where masculine force is the key problem-solving device), stereotypical assumptions about race and qualities of realism and pragmatism.80
In discussing this "gender-based chauvinism", the role of the police wife can be illustrated by the following quote from the police magazine Servamus:
It is true that your husband may be in the front line of our quiet, ordered society, in the heat of the battle, but you must be that quiet, unseen source of his strength for that battle, from you must flow the strength that he needs to come out of the battle unscathed and victorious. If she is a sour and disgruntled wife, it will not be long before her husband will also find his work a burden and a bore if she is constantly grumbling about the way in which the policeman is providing for his family, she will make him disgruntled and dissatisfied with his job. The policeman has a high and sacred calling but so has the wife of the policeman. He may be the wheel that has to keep our slightly mad society from falling apart – but then she ought to be the nut that keeps that wheel functional and in its place fulfil that high calling to which you, as the wife of a policeman, have been called.81
Patriarchal or traditional attitudes towards women seem to be common in police culture. Lee Bowker in a study on police response to domestic abuse said, "there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that some police officers subscribe to male subcultural norms that justify wife beating."82 Clearly, this presents a problem in both policing domestic abuse and eradicating domestic abuse within police culture. Police enter into domestic abuse situations differently than other criminal situations. When police understand domestic abuse to be "natural or typical expressions of male-female relationships"83 they may not treat the man as a criminal and may even identify with him. When police officers identify with abusers, either because they subscribe to views that justify male abuse against women or they are abusers themselves, women who are seeking help from police officers are negatively affected.
Francois Botha commented that "the wife of a policeman would be discouraged from bringing the case to court"84 and he remembers victims "struggling to get cases to court."85 The more high-ranking the police officer, the more difficult it would be to bring the matter to justice. Counsellors seemed to see mainly lower ranked police families. While it may be that the lower ranks are more abusive than the higher ranks, it is also possible that women whose partners are of higher rank stand less of a chance of being believed. Faeza Khan, a counsellor from the NICRO Women's Support Centre in Cape Town, witnessed a scene during a police training she had conducted on gender issues and domestic abuse in which a high ranking policeman bullied and manipulated his lower ranking wife in front of other police members. Ms Khan felt that his high rank protected him from a challenge from other policemen in the group.86
Rank and hierarchy also brings up an interesting point of discussion. The authoritarian structure and rigid hierarchy of the SAPS could also have some effect on police domestic abuse. While there have been no studies examining this point, the concept is intriguing. Power and control are some of the main factors behind why men abuse. In a rigidly controlled structure, which has a clear chain of command, with the lower ranks as the ones who carry out orders and have little control over what they are supposed to do, a high incidence of domestic abuse would seem unsurprising. If an individual has limited power and control in his work and has a need to exercise such power and control, he may then exercise that need in another environment, such as the home. Additionally, the role of the police as figures of authority may also have some impact on a member's home life. If at home he does not receive the same deference as he does when he is in uniform, he may be inclined to attempt to impose his authority, perhaps by violence or abuse. While these ideas are theoretical for the purposes of this study, there is some anecdotal evidence to support issues of authority in police families.87 Further studies into this aspect of police domestic abuse in South Africa would be enlightening.
The Way Forward
This discussion has identified several problems for survivors of domestic abuse by police members. Several suggestions can be made to assist these women in this process.
- Stricter procedures for removing police weapons from the family home
The problem of firearms is of utmost importance. Those with the authority to remove firearms are reluctant to do so, because without a gun, a police member cannot patrol the streets and be on duty. When Mona Samuels tried to have the weapon removed, her husband's superior told her that he had not yet committed a crime, therefore the weapon could not be removed, even though he had already shot at her and threatened her with a gun. It is possible for guns to be issued only during the hours in which a member is on duty, thereby not allowing the member to take the gun home. This may be a possible compromise.
- The establishment of a codified procedure within the SAPS to deal with police who batter
At the moment, within the SAPS the treatment of police who batter seems to be sporadic. There seems to be little in the way of guidelines to instruct other police members in arresting police members accused of a domestic abuse assault or violation of an interdict. If there are guidelines, there seems to be no sanction against breaking the guidelines, as in the case of Mona Samuels. Edward was held in the station, rather than a cell and his bail was paid for by his supervisor.
- Information given to intimate partners of police members
Several of the respondents did not know of some of the possible remedies they could draw upon and did not know their rights as far as laying an assault charge or what would happen if they laid a charge. Because of the insularity of police culture, many women never find out what they can do. By disseminating information to police wives, police wives will be better informed as to their options and resources. For example, describing the procedure for laying an assault charge against a police member, including who one may go to if charge office personnel turn the women away, may be extremely helpful for women who do not know the law and do not know where to go.
- The establishment of an ombudsman to assist survivors of police domestic abuse
Ombudsmen are used in psychiatric hospitals to represent or help with disputes between patients and doctors. As psychiatric patients are often extremely disempowered and are rarely listened to by the doctors, the ombudsman serves to listen to the patient and investigate complaints with an open mind. An ombudsman for victims of police domestic abuse could do the same. Domestic abuse survivors are often very disempowered and easily discouraged. The ombudsman could appear as a witness and his or her recommendations should be strongly considered by a disciplinary committee or by a court of law. While it could be argued that the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) currently fills this role, an ombudsman devoted solely to domestic abuse cases may be more effective.
- A better referral and support system for wives and girlfriends of police officers
The social services of the SAPS is intended to keep the police working effectively. They are occupational social workers. Their job is not to do family counselling or even to provide much assistance to the family. Social Welfare is often overburdened with cases and many police wives are reluctant to approach outside social workers, due to the nature of police culture as well as domestic abuse. By forming a support network for wives and girlfriends of police officers, either through the SAPS or through a private group, the needs of police wives can be heard and dealt with.
- Better support services for police officers
Policing is generally agreed to be a stressful occupation. Police in South Africa have very little in the way of support services. Often, the police do not want to go to the social workers but cannot afford outside help. Also, therapy is often seen as unmanly or un- macho. By making social services more accessible and acceptable to police, police can begin to deal with some of their problems. Additionally, alcoholism is a problem among police members. While alcoholism is not a cause of abuse, it may be an aggravating factor. Police members who seek help for a substance abuse problem may be punished for seeking the help and so may be less inclined to seek help, in which case he or she may feel that the problem is spiralling out of control.
- Gender sensitivity training for all police officers, beginning at the police college
The attitude of police towards women and domestic abuse is one of the foremost problems in domestic abuse. Unsympathetic or hostile officers combined with a lack of understanding about domestic abuse, as well as traditional attitudes towards women make for poor police services for women. Gender sensitivity trainings have worked to change the attitudes of some police, though the trainings were limited in numbers of police affected. The training needs to begin at the entry level of the police and be re-enforced periodically throughout their career. These trainings also need to be directed towards the upper ranks where, often, attitudes and practices are reinforced.
- Passage of the new Domestic Violence Bill
The new bill drafted by the sub-committee of the Law Commission has been designed to be more effective in enforcing the interdicts and other assistance women receive from the Prevention of Family Violence Act. By passing this law, the previous problems of non-compliance can be addressed and more women can be helped.
- Passage of a law defining and criminalising domestic abuse
Domestic abuse has only recently been recognised as a criminal action. While a woman can lay a charge of assault, there is nothing that specifies if it is domestic or intimate in nature. In order for domestic abuse to begin to be eradicated, a strong message must go out saying that domestic abuse will not be tolerated. By defining and criminalising domestic abuse as an act that is different than a single, isolated stranger assault, the justice system may begin to take domestic abuse seriously. Judges have referred to domestic abuse as a "tumultuous relationship",88 rather than recognising the series of manipulative and controlling behaviours that eventually ends up as an assault or possibly a homicide. Only when society begins viewing domestic abuse with seriousness and concern can women stop fearing for their lives in their own homes.
Domestic abuse involving police is a two-fold problem. For the individual survivor of abuse by a police officer, the isolation is immense and the fear is paralysing. Police have access to weapons. There is a brotherhood and loyalty among police which is difficult to break through to lay a charge. Police culture is sexist and traditional in its views towards women. The survivors may be too scared of their partner or of his friends in the police service and may be convinced that nothing will happen if she complains or lays a charge. Sadly, this is often true.
For non-police survivors of abuse, police battering is also a problem, although less directly. Police who batter and justify the abuse will not have the ability to assist a women who is also being abused by her partner. They may feel that the woman deserved the beating or is overreacting. If the policeman feels that women need to be hit occasionally and he also beats his wife, a woman needing assistance can expect very little when calling upon the police.
In the larger, societal sense, the transformation of the South African Police Service from a force to a service requires certain changes on the part of the police as well as on public perceptions of the police. Police who abuse their partners and are insensitive or even abusive to other women needing assistance can do nothing to improve relations between the police and the public.
Police members who abuse their wives are breaking the law and abusing their own authority. This affects their ability in policing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women. The police are supposed to be upholding the law and providing an example for the rest of society. Assault is a crime. Police who assault their wives are breaking the law just as much as any other person who commits an assault. Women turn to the law and call the police when they are being beaten. When police officers react with indifference or approval of the violence, then nothing will change for the women being abused.
1 This is her real name. Throughout this paper, all other names of survivors have been changed for their privacy and safety. Her story was put together from a series of interviews with her family and others related to the case.
2 The term "survivor" will be used interchangeably with the term "victim". Both of these terms have different connotations and slightly different meanings when discussing battered women. "Survivor" is often used as a more empowering term, as an abused woman has survived incredible abuse. However, in some cases, such as Mona Samuels, the woman does not survive.
3 There are both men and women in the police service. Sometimes men are also the victims of domestic abuse, though the overwhelming majority (95% of cases) are women. For the purposes of this study, I will concentrate only on male police members and female survivors.
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