Part 5: Domestic Violence: When The Police Officers Hands Are Tied

1. What’s the most challenging part for you as a police officer that wants to help?

Answer:  One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with domestic incidents is the victim’s unwillingness to cooperate.  Victims sometimes try to dictate the police officer’s actions for instance, “I want him to go to jail” or to just “intimidate” the abuser and then leave. Victims also sometimes ask police officers to do things that are out of their scope.  Police officers can lay charges but we do not make the final decisions as that’s the courts role.

Another factor is language barriers.  It can be difficult to communicate with the victim and consequently, we cannot take a statement.

Sometimes the victims wish that they could make the whole thing disappear but there is no turning back once the charges are laid on the abuser. The victim’s want to take back their statements and argue that it was a one-time incident; however, we do not have the discretion to drop the charge that is the prosecutors’ choice. As officers we must follow protocol and abide by the provincial and federal mandates. We have to be mentally prepared to go into homes and potentially separate family members.

Victim’s unwillingness to move out of abusive relationship is another factor. There have been times when we have been to the same house multiple times for domestic related calls between the exact same people. We don’t dictate people’s lives. It is their decision and choice. 

2. Why would victims not cooperate?


a. Sometimes victims do not realize that the police have to make an arrest if there has been a criminal offence.   Police officers can’t just come in and speak the abuser and leave. Many victims ask for the police officers to “scare” the abuser and leave but when informed that police officers cannot just leave they choose not to cooperate.

b. The abuser is the earning member of the family. When the “breadwinner” is arrested the victim fears that the family may fall apart; hence, they do not cooperate.

c. Continuing interaction despite order of no contact. In this scenario, the abuser has conditions not to contact the victim but they continue to interact, live together and act as a couple. Although the victim has the upper hand because she/he can call the police for breach of conditions if the abuser retaliates/becomes abusive again we cannot do much if they choose to live together. We can arrest the abuser for breaching his conditions.

d. New immigrants lack the knowledge of legal procedures. In this case, victims that are new immigrants are really scared because they are not knowledgeable about the justice procedures and are afraid that they may be deported.   Some immigrants also assume that corrupt procedures from their native land also apply in Canada. Consequently, immigrants hesitate to cooperate with police.

e. Victims are threatened by their abusers. Abusers often threaten the victim further with harsher abuse, even death, if the victim attempts to seek help.



  1. An additional factor that continues along the lines of point B in the second question above is the social stigma that surrounds a victim trying to leave an abuser; breaking up the family, “ruining” their children’s’ lives, what society will say, how extended family may react, how will they survive on their own, etc. Often victims want out but genuinely believe that this is not an option – usually stemming from cultural and family influences. So although they may periodically reach out for help, they often do not end up following through and/or retract their original statements out of such fears that life would actually be worse outside of the abusive situation.

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