My earliest experience of attending a domestic violence incident was in Townsville in 1976. At that time, as is probably still the case now, ‘domestics’, as these matters are labelled, made up the highest proportion of incidents police are required to attend.
I was then a newly minted police trainee being rotated through the uniformed coppers’ duties in Townsville. On this night, I was dumped on a young constable who had several years service, his name was ‘M’.
With my partner, M in a marked patrol car, we were sent to a job in an area between Garbutt and West End, in a high-blocked fibro box on stilts in a dead-end street backing onto tidal flats. It was about 10.00 PM on a quiet Sunday night. The family who lived in this run-down area were First Australians. The kids had run screaming to their neighbours and their non-Aboriginal next-doors had gone to a nearby phone-box and phoned police, saying: “Dad’s bashing Mum; Mum’s screaming, and the kids are terrified.”
When Constable M and Trainee Pyke arrived I was expecting to be shown how it’s done. I was not to be disappointed. M walked ahead of me up to the front door which was open, knocked loudly and when a sheepish-looking, wiry man wearing only a pair of work shorts about 30 sidled sideways up to the door, M said, “Is everything here OK, now?”
The sheepish-looking man nodded at M slowly, “Yeah, bro. Ever ting all right now.”
Instantly, M wheeled around like a well-drilled platoon of army cadets and went past me going down the stairs headed back to the police car. He had reached the car door before I entered the house through the front door, looking for the woman. There was no thought required. This was a threshold moment but I only see that now. At the time, I made the unemotional judgement that M had done all he was going to do for one reason or another and was just as useless as most of the General Duties cops I had worked with up to that point. But that was a side issue.
As a trainee, there was nothing I could do about M except shoot him, which was a tad too drastic. As a sworn police officer, though, there was much I could do for the woman and kids.
“Where is she?”I asked. His eyes flickered towards the kitchen but he said nothing. Freud would not have missed the slip. I found the young woman cowering against a cupboard on the floor in the kitchen, nothing broken. I helped her up, at the same time two small missiles planed across the room and speared into the body of their mother.
“Are you all right, Mummy?”a small skinny boy asked his mother, hugging her hard while his big round brown eyes stayed focussed on mine all the time. His younger, skinnier sister had her face buried in her mother’s breasts and was silent. I could hear her breathing, hard.
“Yeah, I’m alright, my darlings,”the young mother told them, but as she spoke her eyes teared up, then small droplets welled from her eyes and streamed down her cheeks.
I’ve seen this so many times since. Women often cop the abuse on themselves but the effects of that abuse on their kids will trigger emotions which can lead to the understanding that something must be done.
I took the husband out onto the front verandah. M was sitting in the cop car, smoking, at least he had not driven off. “You hit her?”I asked the perp. “No. Never hit her, connable.”Then, giving his situation some thought, the offender decided to promote me, always a good move, “Never hit her, sergeant. She always complainin’, you know?”