A couple’s dispute could be something relatively minor but it could also be a sign of underlying troubles; so police have broadened their definition of what spousal abuse is in an effort to reduce further violence.
Ponoka RCMP have been using the new standard since last year and it has changed statistics drastically. Spousal abuse complaints nearly doubled in Ponoka last quarter to 60 from 32 because of the broadening of the definition, explained RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm. “It’s been broadened as conflict.”
Despite the extra work he feels it could help investigators find past issues.
“We would have to do more of an investigation to dig down and see if there’s more in the past,” he explained.
The process allows police an opportunity to delve deeper into a dispute.
One champion for this change is Beth Campbell, program manager of domestic violence relations for the RCMP. With police being on the ground level, the change has given them a way to delve more deeply into a domestic dispute.
“Typically we know from statistics there can be victims of violence in a relationship potentially for years before the victim will reach out and call the police. When he or she calls out it could be that verbal argument,” she explained. “When we do get that call, we need to assess; is this is a one-off complaint.”
There may not be a need for further investigation and she acknowledged people will argue, however asking pertinent questions might give police insight into an abusive relationship. “The emotional abuse and the psychological abuse could be simmering below the surface.”
Police are given 19 specific questions in a Family Violence Investigation Report (FVIR) to ask in a domestic dispute. “We talk more about risk as opposed to if there’s a criminal occurrence where we could lay charges. There still could be risk to that person who has reached out to the police service.”
She feels the questions are important to find out more information about the offenders as well.
Considering there is usually a personal relationship between the abuser and abused it becomes more difficult for the victim to understand how they are affected. Campbell used the example of a bank robber threatening the life of a bank teller.
She then used the example of a man threatening his ex-wife saying he does not want to pay alimony anymore. “It’s a very different dynamic for the person involved in that intimate relationship because she does know this person there is a relationship and the motive is the power and the control versus ‘I just need cash.’”
There is difficulty for a victim leaving an abusive relationship, explained Campbell. They might feel there are several reasons to stay such as money and losing the children in a custody battle.
“Plus they’ve learned to survive in that environment,” she stated.
The FVIR is mandatory for all police officers in Alberta and when dealing with a victim fear and cultural differences can be some of the challenges investigators face.
“It’s such a valuable form that helps frontline police officers,” Campbell said. “You could have first-year service or you could have 20-year service. If you ask those questions you’re going to be pulling out the information you need in order to make an informed response.”
It takes more time but gets at the information; one of the questions to a victim asks is whether they have been forced to have sex. She admits it is probably uncomfortable for both the victim and the officer but that information may not necessarily be volunteered otherwise. A victim may also believe since they are married to someone that choice may not be theirs to make anymore.
“Victims tend to minimize the risk because they’ve learned to survive in that environment,” offered Campbell.
It becomes even more difficult when the victim has feelings for the other person.
The FVIR form was rolled out in 2008 by the solicitor general and has gone through an evaluation process. Results are not yet available but a police advisory committee comprising members from children and youth services, shelters, and Alberta Justice. “There’s always work being done and always moving forward.”
The change to police statistics has allowed Mounties to recognize an argument between two people may have underlying issues. Any time a police officer is called to a dispute the call scores as domestic violence.