21 December 2022
By Rebecca Williams, Gwent police sergeant.
I remember standing together, shoulder to shoulder, in a perfect line. Every police officer wearing their freshly pressed formal uniform, boots polished to perfection. The buzz of excitement emanating as we took our final steps in becoming police officers. As we prepared to take our oath to the Queen, it was this moment that we formally dedicated our lives to protect others:
"I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly service the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law."
This oath allowed my colleagues and I to declare and affirm to protect life and property, prevent, and detect crime, maintain law and order and prosecute offenders. The oath became a set of moral principles and values that I intended to live my life by. At this point I honestly believed that my position, badge and uniform would offer my life a protective shield. That I would be able to become the protector of others. I never expected that I would need protecting myself.
My story unfortunately is not unique or special. My story is one of domestic abuse. Like an estimated two million other people in England and Wales, I suffered at the hands of someone that I loved and trusted. What is different in my story is that my position, my badge and my uniform became a barrier for me instead of a shield. Unlike members of the public that I helped every day, I did not have the courage to speak out as I believed as a police officer I should have “known better” or been able to identify the red flags and should have been able to safeguard my children and I.
My full story is not one that I am ready to share on a public platform for many reasons. However, that does not and will not affect the message that I have now dedicated my life and career to. Domestic abuse effects everyone and barriers to reporting must be openly challenged and discussed. You can be a professional and a police officer, of any rank, and still be a victim.
Jess Hill in the book “See What You Made Me Do” describes domestic abuse as “a unique phenomenon, in which the perpetrator takes advantage of their partner’s love and trust and uses that person’s most intimate details – their deepest desires, shames and secrets – as a blueprint for their abuse”. For me, this is the most powerful description I have heard around domestic abuse. It was this quote that made me realise that I could be a professional, a victim and a survivor, as I had never been to blame. Domestic abuse is not just physical abuse, it is also emotional abuse and psychological mind games. From love bombing to gas lighting, the emotional abuse is a rollercoaster of unknown fear.
My role is now to shine a light on barrier crimes. To use my voice to help professionals step out from behind their uniform and ask for help. Being a victim initially brought me great shame, however, it now brings me strength and courage. The strength to help others and the courage to speak out about abuse. I am now surrounded by people who want me to succeed and share my message. I now bring this voice to the Federation.
My advice would be to remember that if you are experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse, you are not alone. Acknowledging what is happening to you, and potentially your family, is a really big step which takes time and courage. There are fantastic agencies outside of the police that can offer support, safeguarding and confidential advice such as the 24/7 Live Fear Free helpline (0808 801 0800). Also, the Federation will actively support any member who wishes to make disclosures or needs signposting for enhanced safeguarding.
Domestic abuse is everyone’s business. We as the Federation need to support officers and members to feel confident to use their voice and speak out. To ask for help and to stand up to domestic abuse.