Trigger warning for domestic violence
Imagine you’re in an abusive relationship. Imagine you’re asleep in your bed, your abusive partner snoring next to you. Perhaps you sleep fitfully, or perhaps you are sound asleep and drained. Suddenly, your slumber is interrupted by a loud banging at the door. It startles you awake. Maybe you are scared of your violent partner’s reaction to being awoken by this cacophony. Nothing good can come from this knock on the door so early in the morning, and you’re terrified of what it may mean.
Maybe you answer the door, or maybe it is kicked in. Either way, there are police swarming round your house. You’re not decent, perhaps you managed to get your dressing gown on. They flock towards your partner. You’re still not quite sure exactly what’s going on, you’re confused, startled and frightened. The police grab your partner. Maybe your partner looks at you with blame in their eyes, and you know they think you called the cops. You didn’t.
This morning, the Met proudly tweeted that they have been undertaking dawn raids on perpetrators of domestic violence, culminating in, as the BBC reports, 264 arrests. In a show of class, the Met also decided to tweet a picture of themselves outside someone’s house, probably easily identifiable to anyone who knows those who live there. Judging by the force’s use of the hashtag #SpeakOut, and contextualising these tweets among others encouraging third-parties to report domestic violence they think may be happening, it looks as though the abuse survivors may have been as surprised by these dawn raids as the perpetrators.
While domestic violence is a pressing and serious matter, it strikes me that what the police are doing probably isn’t a particularly sensitive intervention for the survivors. In many cases, the survivor will live with the perpetrator, so it’s not just the perpetrator’s home being stormed, it’s the survivor’s.
This is exacerbated by the emotional side of abuse: it’s never just physical. In many cases, it is not just fear which prevents the survivor from leaving the situation, but the complicated relationship dynamics. There’s often a hefty dose of emotional abuse in abusive relationships, leaving survivors feeling that there is nowhere else for them to go. Sometimes this might take the form of “it’s us against the world”. This could very easily be exacerbated by the police suddenly dragging a partner out of your bed.
Then there’s the fact that these arrests probably aren’t going to keep the perpetrator away forever. They’ll be released, whether it’s within hours, days, or months. I can’t imagine that none of them will blame their partners for this arrest, and this is likely to have dire consequences for survivors.
Of course, not all abuse is the same, and not all survivors feel the same. There might be some survivors who would welcome this sort of intervention, but thinking back on my own personal experiences, this would be literally the last thing in the world I’d want.
It’s important that we are more aware of people we know who might be in abusive relationships, but it’s also crucial to respect their wishes and offer support as a community. Dawn raids based on reports to the police are an unsustainable and, in many cases, unhelpful response. Instead, we must keep our eyes open, and support anyone we may know who needs help, in the ways that they want.