As some of you know, sentencing was handed down today in a domestic violence case that hit especially close to home. Last summer the Waltham Police Chief was arrested on charges that he assaulted his wife and a friend to whom she reached out for help. The trial took place last month, and Chief LaCroix was found guilty on two counts of assault and battery against his wife, and acquitted on the other charges he faced. Today, he was sentenced to probation until December 2014, among other conditions.
Emotions run high at times like these. To some the sentence may seem too light for such a violent assault. To others, Chief LaCroix is a well-known, respected member of the community and it’s difficult to reconcile what they’ve heard and read with the guy they know. Now that the case has run its course in the justice system and this incident will fade from the headlines, what can we learn from it?
1. Domestic violence happens in all types of relationships. Abusers don’t come with warning labels, they don’t have horns growing out of their head. They can be charming, professional, respected members of the community. If you suspect abuse, don’t assume you’re wrong because the couple in question doesn’t fit the stereotype of what you think an abuser or a victim looks like.
2. People experiencing abuse need courageous friends and neighbors to turn to. In this particular case, the victim did not immediately call law enforcement. She turned to a friend – a friend who in turn faced physical intimidation and attempts to impugn her credibility. Other neighbors and coworkers were able to corroborate parts of the story. Had those community members not spoken up, it’s possible there would have been no arrest, no conviction at all. Often in domestic violence cases, friends and family are aware of what is going on, or witness an incident that makes them uncomfortable, but aren’t sure what to say. Do you know what to do or say if you suspect a friend is being abused…or is being abusive? For some advice, click here or look for our column in the Waltham News Tribune this Friday.
3. Domestic Violence is a community issue. Some people feel like these matters are private, family issues to be handled quietly. Many times, domestic violence does happen behind closed doors. Cases like this that make headlines shed light on the many people who are connected and affected. That is always the reality, whether or not it makes the news. In this particular case, this man’s professional position happens to affect an entire community. But whenever and wherever domestic violence happens, it makes all of us unsafe. To those who feel that it should remain a private matter, we ask, if the Chief of Police had walked up to a stranger on the street and assaulted them, would you feel differently? What sentence would you feel he should get? Why is this case any different? LaCroix was convicted of assault. The fact that the victim is his wife shouldn’t make it any less of a crime.
4. Survivors often display ambivalence about their abuser. Many people wonder why the victim in a domestic violence case would take the stand and testify in her husband’s defense. While we won’t speculate on the specific dynamics of this relationship, we know that in many cases, the survivor doesn’t want to punish their abuser, they just want the abuser to stop hurting them. They may still care about that person and love them. Abuse isn’t just about physical violence, it is a pattern of behavior that one person uses to gain and maintain power and control over another. Many of the survivors we work with have friends and family who are frustrated because the survivor isn’t ready to leave the relationship, isn’t willing to call the police, isn’t willing to sever all ties with their abuser. If someone you know is experiencing abuse but is displaying ambivalence, be as supportive as you can. Listen without judgment. Understand that their self-confidence may have been eroded and it takes time to build it back up.
5. Survivors are often afraid to access law enforcement, and that’s understandable. It is important to think about how this case might impact victims of abuse. Someone in a position of power (whose role is to serve and protect) has been arrested and convicted of assaulting his partner. How does this make us feel? What if we need help? How can we trust systems? How do we trust people in power?
While cases like this are scary, we know that one person’s actions are not representative of the Waltham Police Department or law enforcement as a whole. While we understand that hearing stories like this might make people reluctant to come forward, REACH has worked with the Waltham Police Department for three decades, and they are a valued and important partner in this work.
If you (or someone you know) is experiencing violence and wants to involve law enforcement but is afraid to do so, a domestic violence advocate can help you evaluate your options and walk you through the process. Help is available.
We will continue to talk about domestic violence in a public way. We will continue to support survivors and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. We will continue to stand up, speak out, and make clear that domestic violence is not acceptable, no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what your job is. Will you stand with us?