It’s a topic that is discussed very little. It’s a topic that the public has little knowledge of. It’s a topic that is not given enough attention: Officer Involved Domestic Violence (OIDV).
Estimates vary, yet it’s estimated between 20-40%* of law enforcement families/significant others experience domestic violence. The International Association of Chiefs of Police have developed a model policy. Departments are encouraged to adopt policy, but it is not a requirement. Measuring enforcement, within a department, is difficult for the public to assess.
I met him online December 2014. We started dating March 2015. The relationship started like any other. Fun times, laughter and sharing experiences. Looking back, I can clearly see the early warning signs: the sarcastic comments, the commanding tone of voice, the impatience, deflection, moodiness and negativity.
I grew up having respect for members of the law enforcement community. It is a thankless job that most people dare not venture into. It is a job that takes courage, strength, wisdom. When I see a man or woman wearing the badge I immediately think I am safe and secure in their presence. This is what I initially thought when I met him.
Dating a police officer is a bit different that dating a “regular” guy. Members are usually intense type-A personalities. They are suspicious of most people they encounter and rightly so. They are astute observers of their environment, as they need to be. Not every man you go out in public with carries a weapon or two. They see things day in and day out that you and I will never see and never understand. Murder, blood, child abuse, rape, robberies. They encounter citizens every day that lie to them, evade them, and try to out maneuver them physically and mentally. After many years it takes its toll.
I understood this to the best of my ability. I made it my responsibility to be light-hearted, loving, happy and humorous whenever we spent time together. I wanted to be that pleasurable beacon of light that he could come home to. I wanted him to forget the pressure of his workday. Yes, even in small town Colorado, there is stress in being a cop.
I did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. I misunderstood and assumed “domestic violence” is strictly physical assault. I had no idea the definition was broader: Verbal, mental, financial, digital, spiritual, stalking. I had no idea during my time with him that what I was experiencing is domestic violence.
Eventually, his behavior escalated from moodiness, negativity and snarky sarcasm to fits of anger. If I did not live up to his standards, if I did not say intelligent things (as perceived by him, of course), if I behaved in a goofy, funny way, it would usually trigger a reaction from him and not a pleasant one. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that my jovial attitude was described as “disturbing” by him. I realize now that he is an unhappy person and his demeaning comments to me were designed to erode my confidence in myself.
After being on the receiving end of his “discipline” many times, I would start to tear up. If we were in public, I was told numerous times to, “GET IN THE CAR”, “DON’T YOU CREATE A SCENE!!!” If I did something as innocent as sing to the music playing in the restaurant (not loud, mind you) I was told I shouldn’t sing at the dinner table. Everything I did was scrutinized and judged. I was made to feel inferior. Nothing was ever right. Nothing was ever correct. I was treated like a child. I was always chastised in a commanding voice. I was brought to tears with shaking hands several times. He never took responsibility for the fact that his abuse is what would trigger my fear, my tears and my shakes. I have so many specific stories that could contribute to this blog, but there are too many to list here.
Stories he communicated to me about his past during our relationship did not make sense to me. I always felt like he was leaving out details; that I was not getting the full story. I walked on eggshells constantly - even when things seemed good. Afraid of the next outburst. Afraid of the next snarky, condescending comment.
Verbal abuse and psychological abuse are rarely talked about. Like myself at one point, the public is not educated on the dynamics of abuse. People assume abuse is strictly physical assault. Many people are unaware that prior to the relationship escalating to physical assault, if it escalates, it ALWAYS starts with verbal and psychological abuse.
I am free because I started to “investigate” him while we were still together. I found a link to an online dating site. He denied he was using the site. Was that the truth? I will never know for certain. It had already been proven that he was not safe or trustworthy for me. He did not like that I was looking into who he is and attempting to look into his past. Once again, it was turned back on to me – that I have trust issues. I now understand that for what it was: deflection. The relationship ended in September 2015.
After processing what happened to me, I reached out to his Chief of Police in February 2016. His Chief forwarded my e-mail to an investigator at the DA’s office in a neighboring county. The investigator reached out to me. On March 21, 2016, I spent 1.5 hours telling my story to the investigator. I was seeing a therapist at the time and she advised me that after he interviews “him” I have every right to review the report. I thought about it for a few days. I decided that I did not need to read the report. I lived it. I know what happened. Besides, his version in the report more than likely would have been full of manipulation and blaming me. I did not need to regress my healing and reading the report might have. I remember driving back to Denver, down the mountain, and feeling an overwhelming sense of relief. I will NEVER forget that feeling. A weight was lifted off my shoulders that day. It was then that I was able to move forward. I am grateful to the Chief for forwarding the e-mail. I found my voice.
Because of the abuse I endured, I now lend my voice to various domestic abuse organizations to create awareness and I educate our communities about domestic violence. I have met with legislators in my state of Colorado, and I have met with Chiefs of Police. I continue to educate advocates and law enforcement about Officer Involved Domestic Violence. I will continue to speak at national conferences, give keynote addresses and write in public forums. I will never be silent about what happened to me because I know that I have helped others to process what happened to them.
My mission is to encourage and inspire others to speak out.
My name is Nanette Chezum and I am a thriving survivor of Officer Involved Domestic Violence.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.nanettechezum.com
*Editor's Note: These statistics date back to the early 1990s. More recent statistics on specific rates of domestic violence within law enforcement families are unavailable. Regardless of the actual numbers, it is concerning that the rate is so high.