On Tuesday night, Lt. Brian Burke spoke to the class about what he says is a prevalent issue across the country. Domestic violence, the act of willful intimidation, physical or sexual assault on a spouse, family member or someone you reside with, is not only a separate crime from assault, but it also is treated very uniquely by law enforcement.
Unlike most crimes where a complainant must press charges for police to take action, domestic violence cases allow police to decide whether or not a person will be arrested on a domestic charge.
"Police take the burden of pressing charges off of the victim," Lt. Burke said. "If there is probable cause, we don't give the victim the choice."
Another difference between a domestic charge and a regular charge for something like assault or vandalism is that if a person reaches a third domestic misdemeanor charge, it becomes a felony.
But there are very unique pieces to a domestic situation outside of law enforcement as well. Lt. Burke says that women and men alike can get stuck in violent relationships because of a violent cycle that goes on behind closed doors.
"First you have the tension, or the fighting," Lt. Burke said. "It could be over money, the loss of a job, one of the partners is drinking all the time and the other partner keeps asking them to stop. The next step is the explosion, or the assault. Those two steps in the cycle are usually when police are called."
But the third step in the cycle is the one that keeps it all going.
"The Honeymoon phase," Lt. Burke said, "is when the aggressor says 'I'm sorry, it won't happen again,' and the victim rationalizes either with self blame or with hope that the other person will change."
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. But Lt. Burke says that most cases of domestic violence are never reported to police. Lt. Burke urges victims and witnesses of domestic violence to contact police. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-494-8100. For more information, visit the National or Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence websites.