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Domestic Violence: Secrets Hidden Behind the Badge
By Captain Donna Roman Hernandez (Ret.)
Published: 09/07/2015

Domesticviolence Law enforcement officer-perpetrated domestic violence incidents and their victims are the secrets kept hidden behind the badge.

Generally speaking, domestic violence is a learned behavior exhibiting a pattern of coercive domination and control based on or supported by violence. Acts of domestic violence are human rights violations.

No one knows precisely how often domestic violence occurs or how many people are affected by its toxicity because frequently these incidents go unreported and misreported. Often times, they are discovered in divorce statistics and medical reports that disguise the information.

Those who experience acts of domestic violence in a dating relationship, marriage, or in a family setting have their own unique experiences and reasons why they stay.

Batterers are master manipulators and predators who use their authority and the vulnerability and loyalty of their victims to fuel their lust for control and domination. Victims are betrayed by the people they love and trust and are not responsible for the actions of their abusers; however, batters make their victims feel as though they are.

Many victims fear leaving their batterers, others stay because they have children, no financial means to leave, and some suffer in silence because they are the family members, intimate partners or spouses of police and corrections officers.

The Batterer Wears a Badge

According to a fact sheet from the website of the National Center for Women and Policing, two studies found that at least 40% of law enforcement families experience domestic violence in contrast to 10% of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24%, indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among law enforcement families than American families in general.

It’s a painful reality for victims of domestic violence to face when loved ones turns on them, but it’s an extraordinary challenge when the batterer is a law enforcement officer.

Law enforcement officer-perpetrated domestic violence offenders misuse their institutional powers and know how to ‘work the system’ and manipulate their victims with physical and non-physical methods making them feel helpless and ashamed. They use tactics of control learned through their police training and protect their public image should any domestic violence allegations surface against them. A victim of police-perpetrated domestic violence not only fears his/her abuser but fears reporting the abuse to the police because the offender is an officer.

Female officers that are victims of domestic violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers face a unique set of challenges in their careers that their male colleagues may never encounter.

In her book, Crossing The Threshold: Female Officers and Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence, Diane Wetendorf believes that a female officer may prefer to hold herself responsible for ‘allowing’ the domestic violence to happen, thus implying that she can control it and can do something different the next time that will prevent an attack. Wetendorf said, “The female officer’s denial is a coping mechanism that helps her maintain a sense of control, strength and invulnerability. She simply cannot afford to identify herself or have others identify her as a battered woman.”


Dr. Evan Stark, the founder of the first shelter for abused women in the United States and an award-winning researcher and a leader in domestic violence advocacy, has an international reputation for his work on interpersonal violence.

In his book, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, Stark talks about the coercive control model being a pattern of behavior focusing on control and dominance that men use as a form of subjugation that more closely resembles kidnapping or indentured servants than assault and how abusers extend their domination over time in ways that subvert women’s autonomy and infiltrate the most intimate corners of their lives and exercise control over their decision making. Stark said, “Coercive control entails a malevolent course of conduct that subordinates women to an alien will by violating their physical integrity (domestic violence), denying them respect and autonomy (intimidation), depriving them of social connectedness (isolation), and appropriating or denying them access to the resources required for personhood and citizenship (control).”

Who Would Believe Me?

For more than 20 years I was entrapped in the coercive control module that Stark wrote about at the hands of my father, a former Constable/Court Officer, who carried a badge, gun and his biological family’s history of domestic violence.

As a survivor of officer-perpetrated domestic violence, my fear was that if I disclosed the abuse to my police department, would they question how could I protect others if I could not protect myself?

So throughout my law enforcement career I never disclosed the abuse. I suffered in silence and hid my bruises and scars underneath my police uniform, guarded my family’s secret and internalized the guilt and shame of the abuse. Ironically, I arrested domestic violence offenders for the same acts of violence I allowed my father to perpetrate upon me.

My father groomed me to withstand his bad behavior with silence and compliance and warned if I disclosed the abuse, he would hang me and my mother from the beam in the basement of our house. He repeatedly delivered toxic doses of physical and psychological abuse along with intimidation, isolation and control. He deprived me and my mother of our rights and resources and cut us off from family, friends and other supports.

I wanted to live a normal life but how does this happen in a dysfunctional household with the ever-looming potential of lethal violence? I spent lots of time and energy protecting myself from facing what I’d been through. Mentally and emotionally I played it down every way I could.

Intuitively, I knew the odds were greater that I would be killed in my home by my father than working the road as a police officer.

The Violence Ends

One day in 1992 I finally stood up to my father, a courageous act that nearly ended my life.

On a Saturday afternoon I returned home to an argument between my parents in the kitchen. I heard my mother screaming that she had enough and was leaving. Upon entering the kitchen, I saw my mother advance towards my father with a cleaver in hand. I intervened, pushed my father into the wall and he fought back. He grabbed me by my neck, lifted me off my feet, banged my body onto the kitchen table and strangled me.

My police training launched me into survival mode. For the first time, I defended myself from my father’s rage with a will and determination to survive. He released me and I staggered to my bedroom. We met on the second floor landing and he knew I was armed. In that moment, my father feared me like I had feared him for decades. He knew I would no longer submit to his brutality.

My mother and I left with the clothes on our backs. Finally, we would be free from the violence that permeated our lives.

The impact of domestic violence is life altering and could be life ending.

My personal story of victimization and survival has New Jersey roots but it speaks to the global widespread epidemics of child abuse and domestic violence that affects women and men from all socioeconomic groups, races, cultures, religions and professions, including law enforcement.

All domestic violence offenders must be held accountable for their actions, especially when the abuser is an officer of the law.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is: 1-800-799-7233.

About the Author:
Captain Donna Roman Hernandez (Ret.) served 29 years in law enforcement with both the Essex County and Caldwell Police Departments in New Jersey. She is a domestic violence police specialist and a domestic violence and sexual assault master trainer. She is the founder of Violence Intervention & Prevention Specialists. Donna is the host/creator of Tough Justice Internet Talk Radio Show (www.toughjusticeddv.com) and The Jersey Beat Blog Talk Radio Show (www.thejerseybeat.blogspot.com). Contact Donna at Violenceips@yahoo.com.


  1. ladypolicia on 09/09/2015:

    As a victim myself of domestic violence while in law enforcement position. I strongly agree with this article and contents. We hide due to shame and embarrassment from our fellow co-workers and superiors, and even our own family. The word needs to be spread out and the violence has to stop. It's the only way to survive and educate others on how to live and move forward with a healthy mind free of fear and shame. Awesome work Donna and thank you for sharing your life with us all and helping other survive the nightmares caused by domestic violence.

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