There are many reasons why so many of us choose not to call 911. Maybe we believe his threats that if we tell someone, things will get worse. That he will show up at our job and get us fired. That he will hurt someone we love, like our children or friends. Or that he will even hurt himself. Or that it won’t happen again. Or that he was just drunk this time. Or angry. Or jealous.
And oh yeah, did I mention that after he sobers up and calms down, we believe it when he says he really, really loves us? And that we are the most beautiful women he’s ever laid eyes on?
These are all things that my boyfriend told me. And I believed him, for a while. Until one night, exhausted after hours of trying to protect myself from his rage, I called the police. I expected a big dramatic scene when the officer arrived, but instead he very calmly asked me if I were okay. Then he asked me how he could help.
“Could you just wait here while I pack my things?” I want to leave, I told the officer.
“Be glad to,” the officer said.
And just like that, I finally walked out on my drunk, abusive, sorry-ass, nightmare boyfriend while he stood seething in the corner, unable to stop me.
But what if the situation had been more complicated? What if I were an undocumented immigrant? What if I had children? Would I still have been brave enough to make that call and pack my bag?
Recent data from law enforcement and nonprofits indicates that since President Trump took office, fewer immigrant women are reporting cases of sexual assault and domestic violence to law enforcement.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, the number of Latina women reporting rapes in Houston, TX, has dropped by 40 percent. In Los Angeles, sexual assault reports among this group have declined by 25 percent, and domestic violence by 10 percent. Similar numbers in Denver.
Here in Durham, “women are still calling the Durham Crisis Response Center,” said Martha Morales, Director of Cultural Programs at InStepp, another nonprofit that aids women in crisis and transition from crisis. “But they are very afraid to report the crime to the police due to their immigration situation. In fact, the community is too scared to go out of their own homes to buy groceries, or to go to church. If they are too scared to be in public due to the fear of deportation, they are even more afraid to voluntarily involve themselves with the police.”
Hearing that women in my own town, maybe even in my neighborhood, may be afraid to ask for the help they need makes me feel very sad. And it also makes me wonder if women are fearing the right people, because I will never forget the nice police officer who waited for me while I packed my bags.
Wondering how a Durham officer would respond to a call from an undocumented woman, I decided to call one and ask. His name was Corporal Jason Salmon, and he has been a police officer here for fifteen years. He works in the Domestic Violence Unit.
“We treat all calls of domestic abuse the same,” he told me, “no matter who they come from.”
“You don’t ask the caller if she is a citizen, or has documents, or for a driver’s license?” I asked.
“We don’t check that. Period. End of story,” he said, and by the tone of his voice, I knew that he meant it. “To tell the truth, we don’t really care,” he added.
So then I asked what kinds of questions he does ask, and what services he provides when someone calls to report abuse.
“I ask if they have any injuries, and if they want to leave the premises. I might escort them to a friend or relative’s house, or a shelter, if one is available.” Then officer Salmon told me that he fills out a victim notification report and provides a copy to the woman. Sometimes he might ask for identification to get the spelling of her name correct.
“And if she doesn’t have a driver’s license?” I asked.
“She could give me a water bill, or even a library card,” he answered.
I believe that calling a police officer to help get out of an abusive situation is often a woman’s best first option. Not only can an officer escort you to a safe location, he or she can also provide information about local organizations that can help you take the next step toward independence and a new life.
And documentation of abuse by a law enforcement officer is important if a woman wants to apply for a special visa from the United States government for victims of domestic violence, called the U-visa. Organizations like InStepp can help women take other steps that are also necessary to obtain a U-visa. For more information about immigration legal services and U-visas, click here or visit http://www.instepp.org/immigration-legal-services/ .