MICHELLE: He’d come home, on shift for dinner and he’d take the weapons belt off and he put it on the kitchen bench within arm’s reach. And the kids if they were chewing too loudly, he go (grunts) look at the gun, look at them, drum hands on (drums hands). And you’re just shitting yourself because he was that volatile that he could just take it or grab it and shot them. And that’s what we’re all thinking and looking at my daughter like stop eating just go without food.
NARRATION: This is Michelle*. We met in a corporate building in Melbourne. The streets were eerily empty outside – the city was just emerging from a long and punishing lockdown.
00:40 MICHELLE: They don’t see that as family violence. The police. That’s just unpleasant behavior, I’m like, No, that was actually worse than getting hit. That fear that we had the fear that I had had that he was going to shoot my children was way worse than when he punched me in the face.
JESS: But how does being threatened with a firearm seem minor to them? That is very unusual marital behavior!
01:06 MICHELLE: Not for a cop.
01:10 NARRATION: Michelle was a police wife who learned the hard way that the organisation her husband belonged to would offer a very different standard of protection to her and her kids.
MICHELLE: You’re a regular family violence victim, your case will be sent to family violence, and it will go to your divisional family violence Investigation Unit, and you’ll get an officer there who’s trained in family violence to deal with your case.
But if you’re a police wife, it gets sent to professional standards command, they triage it, and if it’s minor – which is most of them – get sent to a general duties member.
01:45 NARRATION: General duties police handle the bread-and-butter work of policing – so we’re talking noise disturbances, traffic accidents, break and enters and domestic violence. They are, by definition, generalists.
MICHELLE: And we are at the highest risk of anyone because our perpetrator is in blue.
JESS: And armed.
02:05 MICHELLE: That’s why I’m kicking up such a fuss. We just want equality, we’re not asking for anything more special. It’s just equality.
02:11 NARRATION: Why wouldn’t police families be treated at least equal to civilians? In fact, why wouldn’t there be an even greater level of scrutiny on police suspected of domestic violence?
TRANSITION MUSIC PLAYS
NARRATION: In the last episode, we asked fundamental questions about whether the culture of policing is compatible with the job of protecting victim survivors of domestic abuse. We’ll have more to say on what this means for potential law reforms – especially criminalising coercive control – later in the series.
02:45 But for now, we’re going to stay with policing, because there’s more to say on why the culture of policing needs an urgent intervention.
MARK WYNNE: How much crime are you willing to let your police commit? I mean, let’s just get right down to it.
02:58 NARRATION: In the 80s and 90s, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the Wood Royal Commission confronted a long-standing culture of criminality and corruption among police in Queensland and New South Wales. It was a rout on dirty cops – names that now live in infamy now like Roger Rogerson and Chook Fowler. Some cops were jailed, others were purged, and wide-ranging reforms were introduced that fundamentally changed policing in these two states.
Cops don’t hand over paper bags in broad daylight anymore. But criminality within police ranks persists. And it’s happening inside their own families.
03:42 MARK WYNNE: these offenders are very manipulative, and you don’t want these people in ranks. Once they get in ranks, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. And they can wreak havoc on a police department.
NARRATION: We’ll hear more from retired lieutenant detective Mark Wynne later.
In his condemnation of endemic corruption in Queensland Police in 1989, Tony Fitzgerald QC made an important qualification: ‘Not all police officers are responsible for the nature of the police culture. Many officers retain their integrity and provide meritorious and usually unrecognised service.’ We’ll be hearing from officers like this in this episode, too.
This is not just about the tragedy of police perpetration for their victims. It’s about the impact those perpetrators have on the wider culture of policing.
04:36 LILY: Because police aren’t the people in the blue uniform in movies saving the day, stopping criminals; they’re more like the criminals that are in a gang that protect each other and cover up.
NARRATION: My name is Jess Hill, and this is The Trap.
04:52 MICHELLE: I grew up with extreme coercive control, and my ex looks like Snow White compared to my dad. So I think I had a vulnerability there that he was attracted to. He also grew up with coercive control. So I think the two of us kind of gravitated towards one another.
05:14 NARRATION: We’ve spent the past few episodes deconstructing what coercive control looks and feels like, so we don’t really need to tell Michelle’s story from start to finish. We know the plotline by now: isolation, jealousy, sabotage, gaslighting, rules and consequences, degradation, terror, threats. However, I do want to convey some of what she went through, because it has an added relevancy: this is a man who was being paid to protect the public. Michelle’s husband was a senior constable.
05:48 MICHELLE: If there was cars on the street that he didn’t know, he’d be looking up the plates or getting his mates to look up the plates and accusing me of having affairs and then saying, Well, if you’re not having an affair, give me your phone, I want to go through your phone.
NARRATION: Other tactics were particularly chilling: he would show her images of police files showing dead and battered victims of crime, to threaten and intimidate her.
To this day, Michelle is still only just realising the various tactics he used to control her and the kids.
06:20 MICHELLE: He hated picking up the kids. So he would drive like a maniac and scare the crap out of them. And he’s ex highway patrol officer, so he knows how to drive a car in a really dangerous but safe way, if you know what I mean. So then they’d be absolutely off the wall when I got home, ‘don’t you make him pick us up again.’ And I didn’t realize why. And they told me the other day, like, this was literally last week. That’s family violence, as well as all this stuff that’s on flagging… now!
JESS: That’s the coercive part of it, right? It’s like, I’m going to make this so unpleasant, that you will decide for yourself that you don’t want to do this anymore.
06:55 MICHELLE: It was that slow build up of the things that and I’ve said before in public that I didn’t consider myself a family violence victim until the first really bad bashing. And even then I wrote him an apology note, because I felt responsible. So I knew it was family violence.
JESS: That you’d brought out the worst part of him?
MICHELLE: That it was defensible family violence, because I’d sent him off because he was telling me to quit my job. And I said, No.
07:19 JESS: And isn’t that amazing, your perspective can be so overwhelmed by your partner’s perspective that you almost
MICHELLE: You lose yourself
JESS: You’re evacuated.
07:31 MICHELLE: You are. You completely lose yourself.
The other thing I’ve explained to people is you love them so deeply, you have such a close attachment to them. It’s really strong thing because you’ve had so much pity’s probably the right word for them, because they come home from some really horrific, horrific jobs.
JESS: And the trauma is real
07:49 MICHELLE: The trauma is real, and you see it. And so that’s on the back of that you justify the violence of well, you know, I should be more empathetic. That’s my problem. It’s my job as a woman to be compassionate, empathetic and supportive, right.
It was really confronting for me realizing that he would hit me he did all this violence, but he never did anything at work.
So that was a choice. It wasn’t PTSD that caused it because if it was PTSD, he would have been acting up at work, he would have been a grumpy bastard all the time. But he was only like that at home. And that’s why his colleagues didn’t believe me. Because they never saw that side to him.
08:23 NARRATION: Colleagues of Michelle’s husband repeatedly urged her to make up with her husband. His superior officer even warned her against pressing charges – right in front of her kids – saying that ‘a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man’.
If you’ve been listening to this series since the beginning, you’ll already know Michelle’s kids, who we’ve called Liam* and Lily*. Here in episode one, Liam is talking about his mother’s husband – his stepfather, and a sworn police officer.
08:54 LIAM: He would always play king of the house. Because he had that ultimate control, we didn’t know what he was going to do. And I remember sometimes when we were turning into the street, in front of our house, you’d get this very sick feeling in your stomach. Because you wouldn’t know what he was going to do this night.
NARRATION: When we spoke, Liam was 13 and Lily was 8. They’d been in the sole care of their mother for two years. Michelle says it was the physical violence she endured – and the fact the kids witnessed it – that made it possible for her to keep them safe once she left.
09:35 MICHELLE: That saved my daughter from having to see him, because the thing is, I know women who’ve been through not quite as bad violence, but violence, and they have to see every second weekend their abuser, and hand the kids over and the kids don’t want to see him. I am incredibly – And it sounds crazy. I’m incredibly fortunate that he nearly killed me. I’m incredibly fortunate that he assaulted the children, that he made threats against the children, that he did all of that stuff, and that we could prove it. Because it’s that was our ticket to freedom. Violence should never be your ticket to freedom. That’s insane, that that’s how the system works. But that’s how the system works.
10:11 NARRATION: For a long time, though, Michelle had a safety plan for her kids – but not one for herself. She was resigned to dealing with whatever consequences were waiting for her – after all, she felt responsible for failing to manage her husband’s trauma properly. But one threat changed everything.
MICHELLE: He would talk about how he could kill me and get away with it, because he’s a cop. And he could make it look like a murder suicide.
10:40 NARRATION: When he threatened to kill her and the kids, and frame her for it, her approach changed.
MICHELLE: That got to me because I didn’t want him hurting my kids.
But I also didn’t want him to make it look like I’d done it. The one little essence of me that was left is you can do whatever you like to me, but you’re not going to make me look like a murderer of my own children. There was a snap that happened there.
NARRATION: Michelle actually worked for a domestic violence service – and her colleagues had seen her bruises.
MICHELLE: And I had this amazing male boss who’s just like, ‘you should be dead from the strangulation you just copped. I can’t I can’t walk past this anymore. I can’t walk past this anymore.’ And he sort of helped drag me out of it and change my thinking he I literally, owe that man my life.
11:27 NARRATION: Since escaping her husband, Michelle has been on a mission to find other victims of police perpetration, and shame Victoria Police into taking the issue of officer-involved domestic violence seriously. To her, the work is urgent.
11:45 MICHELLE:. One of the reasons why I advocate is when I got that strangulation event, I’ve been told I was lucky to survive it, because I voided. And ya know could have just been another couple of seconds of pressure on my neck and I, you know, wouldn’t have made it. It’s just it was just a hair’s breadth as to why I’m still alive.
And that’s one of the reasons why I just won’t shut up about this, because I don’t want a police wife getting killed.
12:10 JESS: How commonly, you know, would you hear about police being involved as perpetrators of domestic violence in their own lives? Was it something that if you heard about it, would you be shocked? Or would it be like, Oh, my God, another one?
PAULA SMITH: Well, I was never shocked.
NARRATION: This is Paula Smith, the former cop we heard in the last episode. She left the police in 2010, disgusted at the way she saw victim survivors being treated.
PAULA SMITH: It was exhausting to go, which bit of this don’t they get?
You would see their, either their mates sort of rally and go oh, oh you know, but he’s a good bloke, and they would justify and go, oh you know, she’s a bitch or, and there was this huge divide as to what was going on. My favorite thing ever was, you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. But we do because we’re the cops. And we get to go in behind there and find out. So you know what happens.
13:04 And I have seen that time and time again, of that conversation that goes on, and they’ll be blokes that don’t even, haven’t even spoken to the wife, or don’t know the situation, but they will back the bloke 110% and then give them advice about it. What they would do, and you think, if that’s how you think, Oh, my God,
13:23 JESS: What sort of advice would they give them?
PAULA SMITH: “Just lie to the cops and tell them that she’s the one with a drinking problem”.
This is a cop telling a cop. And I just, I went “oh my god, like why would you do that?” But it’s all about the discrediting,
13:38 JESS: And incredibly unethical, if not dangerous behavior.
PAULA SMITH: Yeah. And it erodes the trust that people have that these people are truthful and honest. Like, I mean, I think that’s something that most people want to believe is that in the moment, those cops are going to be honest, regardless of the outcome. And, it’s disappointing to know that that’s not how it is, They will back them, and not be objective. You know, it’s very rare that I’ve ever seen a mate go, “mate, you really need to have a good look at yourself”.
And they know the system.
14:11 NARRATION: That’s what makes police perpetrators even more dangerous – not only are they potentially protected by their colleagues; they know how to work the system better than anyone.
14:23 NATALIE: they know, generally, what the internal processes are for, you know, what would happen, say during an arrest, and during an interview process, they may know what to say, or what not to say, they would have an idea of simple things, such as using physical force, oh, it’s reasonable. And I had to use that amount of force because they did x y, Zed.
14:54 NARRATION: This is Natalie*. She is a sworn police officer, and has been in the service for over a decade. We’ve changed her name to protect her identity.
15:04 NATALIE: You have people that are trained as negotiators, you have people that are trained as undercover operatives, and their whole basis of their role that they fulfill is to negotiate, to win people over, and to manipulate to achieve a certain desired outcome. So you have people that are professionally trained manipulators. And they’re working in this field, because that’s what they’re good at. And you just hope that like a police officer wouldn’t go home and use the tool of the trade, you know, go and use their pepper spray, or go and use their baton or go and use their firearm off duty, you are trusting that these people won’t use the intellectual tools of the trade and their psychological tools of the trade off duty.
But that’s not always the case.
15:59 NARRATION: Natalie knows this risk firsthand, because after she got together with one of her colleagues – a man senior in rank to her – he subjected her to a level of abuse that made her doubt her sanity.
16:12 NATALIE: He was deliberately generating these arguments and saying to me, you know, you’re such a liar. You never had a boyfriend that died, you know, you say that you helped an ex partner raise their child, I bet he never even had a son. Really big, major things that, that had tangible proof.
NARRATION: His gaslighting was so emphatic and so persuasive that Natalie felt she had to actually go and find proof of these major life experiences to prove to herself – and to him – that they were real.
16:51 NATALIE: And I remember I got in the car one day after, you know, one of these arguments where he’d bought in up sort of maybe two or three days in a row. And I went and drove to the cemetery that you know that my high school boyfriend was buried in or cremated and his headstone was there. And I remember taking a photo and sending it to him.
I remember trying to call him to say, you know, check your email, I’ve just sent over all of this stuff that, that you’re saying that I’m lying about. I mean, I’m not lying. It’s there plain as day. And he answered the phone. And when I put it to him, he just hung up on me, and then I got the silent treatment for days.
17:30 NARRATION: Natalie felt there was no way she would ever escape. In the final months of 2019, she made numerous suicide attempts.
When she did find a way to leave, the physical violence stopped. But the abuse continued – stalking, harassment, intimidation and threats. He would follow her on the freeway and scream obscenities at her, and turn up to her house in the early hours of the morning to shine his headlights through her bedroom window.
18:01 NATALIE: I had changed my phone number multiple times, I had changed my email address multiple times, I’d changed my Facebook and social media information. When my car was getting followed, went so far as you know, selling my car, installing CCTV on my home, changing the alarm code, changing the locks.
And it was only after all of this had happened that I finally went to the police and made a report because I had been followed on the freeway again. And it didn’t appear to be coincidental based on the manner of driving.
18:40 NARRATION: Natalie’s managers were already aware of the situation – she’d had to change up her shifts to create an unpredictable pattern, so that her ex wouldn’t follow her to and from work.
When she finally reported him, she knew what to do. After all, she dealt with cases like this every other day. She came with evidence.
19:01 NATALIE: Part of what I presented was photos of injuries, and copies of previous conversations in SMS message form, Facebook message form. There was also my statement that I gave, there was some CCTV footage from outside of my home, there was a number of things.
19:26 NARRATION: After she reported, Natalie was left to wait, while her ex continued to terrorise her.
19:31 NATALIE: It was probably at least four or five months after I had given the statement that I was told that, you know, the matter had been finalized, and that no criminal action was being taken.
NARRATION: This wasn’t an unknowing citizen’s hopeful report to police – this was an officer of the law reporting crimes to her colleagues.
20:02 NATALIE: I felt defeated. I just thought, yep, this is pretty much how I thought it was gonna go. I shouldn’t have bought myself under notice or brought attention to the situation, because it is, it’s really embarrassing.
NARRATION: Natalie had an Inspector investigate her claims. She wasn’t particularly surprised when she learned that they didn’t know what coercive control was – because she had only just learned what it was herself.
20:32 NATALIE: I got talking to a psychologist, I got talking to a friend, I got online, and I did a lot of research. And I remember the day that I realized what had happened. It was like being struck by lightning. I just thought, oh my god, you mean that there’s a word for this? Because at the time, and going through all of the final stages of trying to leave it just felt like madness. I mean, I was so confused. I was really really really unwell. As you know, as a byproduct of the way that I had been treated.
21:04 JESS: So you didn’t receive any training on coercive control when you entered the police force, and hadn’t received any since?
NATALIE: No, none.
21:13 NARRATION: After reporting her ex, Natalie had to move house to stop him from stalking her. His tactics have now changed. He no longer follows her in person. He’s taken his abuse online.
NATALIE: There’d be at least 20 social media accounts that have been created either impersonating me or targeting me, that’s more difficult to prove.
21:42 NARRATION: The harassment is constant: just in the past week she has had a false crime stoppers report made against her, and found out that her ex has been falsifying messages to look like they are coming from her. Natalie is now waiting for word on an investigation into this tech-facilitated abuse.
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22:03 NARRATION: It’s impossible to say exactly what percentage of serving Australian police officers are likely to be perpetrators – because we don’t have local research on that.
22:14 MICHELLE: We don’t know in Victoria, I think we can assume that they’re similar to the US.
NARRATION: Here’s Michelle again. She’s become one of Australia’s leading experts on officer-involved domestic violence or OIDV.
22:29 MICHELLE: So in the US, there was a lot of information collected in the 1990s. Several separate surveys indicates that 40% of male police officers in a certain demographic generally 35 to 55. are police domestic violence offenders.
Now, I would think that in Victoria, it would probably be similar for the same demographic that you’d be looking at: maybe 40% of male officers in that demographic. You could potentially argue it would be a little bit lower because their recruitment practices have changed in the last 10/15 years. But still, it’s got to be a
higher percentage than in the general population. But we’ve only had one
conviction in five years, which tells you a lot, tells you how hard it is to
23:15 NARRATION: That data Michelle is citing comes from a sociologist in the United States, Leanor Boulin Johnson. She interviewed 728 serving police officers, and 40 per cent of the male officers actually admitted to having lost control and behaved violently towards a spouse or child just in the previous six months.
Another study, conducted by police in Tucson, surveyed almost 400 officers located throughout the United States. 28 per cent of male officers admitted using violence against their partners at least once in the past 12 months alone.
That perpetration rate is seven times higher than what we see in the general public: American (and Australian) studies generally show that domestic violence is perpetrated against 4-5 percent of women over a 12 month period.
So how much of this police perpetration is being reported and charged? Very, very little – worldwide, and in Australia. Even when police are reported and charged, very few end up being convicted, or losing their jobs. In Victoria, 41 officers were charged with family violence offences in 2018 and 2019. As Michelle mentioned, in five years only one has been convicted and that was her ex-husband.
24:41 Police know they have a problem. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request from the ABC’s Hayley Gleeson, we know that at a meeting of senior police from all states and territories in 2019, Victoria Police conceded: ‘We are policing [the] community differently to how we police ourselves.”
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In America, where this conversation is far more advanced, retired lieutenant detective Mark Wynne has since the early 2000s been lobbying police forces across the country to deal with the perpetration in their ranks.
Mark Wynne spoke to the Partnered with a Survivor Podcast, hosted by Ruth Stearns and David Mandel, who’ll you be hearing from in the next episode.
His position is simple.
25:32 MARK WYNNE: How much crime are you willing to let your police commit? I mean, let’s just get right down to it. And it sounds absurd when you say it, but really, I mean, this is a crime.
NARRATION: When Mark talks about this with senior police, he tells them straight.
25:49 MARK: ‘How many banks would you allow your officers to rob in a year? Because we’re talking about a criminal act.’ If they say, ‘Well, you know, the police family, it’s about stress, it’s about this, it’s about that.’ Come on, just save me just say this is ridiculous. Right?
If they’re a sworn public servant, and they’re breaking the law, why are you letting them do that?
Basically, what you’re doing here, you’re colluding with a criminal, let’s just be honest about it. There’s no room for collusion of criminals, we can’t do that in policing. Because if we do, the chain reaction is devastating. The public doesn’t trust you. The advocates don’t trust you. And the victims don’t trust you. And I can tell you from firsthand advocacy, working with advocates around the country, I get calls all the time. And they say, I cannot trust my police department because the captain of the lead… the major Lieutenant is an offender. And when you hear that, here’s what happens. The advocate says to the victim, don’t call that agency, because you can’t trust them. Yeah. Now, think about that for a second. That’s right. It’s like telling somebody, I know your house is on fire. But don’t call that fire department. It’s ridiculous.
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27:03 ALEX ROSLIN: Take that to one level further; imagine if two in five firefighters were actually self acknowledged arsonists. Let me … We’d shut down all the fire departments, we’d be like, within, they should not be responding to fires, they’re the ones setting the fires. But that’s exactly what we’re doing with domestic violence.
it’s really mind boggling when you, when you think about it.
NARRATION: Canadian Alex Roslin is an award-winning journalist and author of ‘Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence’. For the past 20 years, he has been investigating how this issue of police criminality is influencing police worldwide.
27:52 ALEX ROSLIN Domestic violence just in general is generally thought to be linked to issues of power and control. So and that’s that’s really the job of police is to control others. And police officers themselves often will say that the job of policing is controlling and requires people to exercise control, and it attracts controlling people. So you have a kind of a marriage between domestic violence and the policing profession, if you will.
But it’s critical to think about and to figure out, you know, what to do about because domestic violence is the, you know, number one reason for calls to police in many areas.
And then again, another impact is on the you know, these, these marginalized communities, police violence against those communities. There’s a correlation between officers being violent at home and violent against civilians on the job.
But in the States, a recent research has found that only a third of police officers who were convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence, assault were terminated from their, from their job. So two thirds were are still on there. So these are people with a criminal conviction.
I think improving the domestic violence response in the wider population, if you don’t talk about this issue and address it in a meaningful way. I mean, you havent, you can’t solve the problem.
29:18 NARRATION: This goes back to what we heard from former police Frank Caridi and Paula Smith in the last episode. How hard it was to get police to take domestic violence seriously. How they felt like they were placed on the outer for wanting to make an effort.
It’s something Michelle has thought about a lot.
MICHELLE: My ex was going out to family violence jobs, do you think he took them seriously? And guys like him are the senior officer. So you might have a junior officer who’s got good intent and wants to help the woman, but he’s a senior officer on duty. And he will say, no, we’re not issuing a family safety violence, a family notice. We’re not doing that. He poisons the culture. So it makes it more dangerous for family violence victims. And and I argue that it’s a large part, when you think about the percentages of why you get such a patchy response, when you go to a police station, you get that – I think you’ve referred to it as a desk lottery before. And it is because if you get someone like my ex, you’re going to get told to go away. Whereas if you get someone like the police informant I had, he’s going to take notes and send you off to the family violence unit.
TRANSITION MUSIC PLAYS
30:23 NARRATION: We heard what happened when Natalie reported – it was a stock standard story of inaction.
When Michelle reported her husband to police, the response was not just inaction – it was collusion.
MICHELLE: So I said to her,
I’ll make a statement because I just can’t do it anymore. The relationship’s over. I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.
30:47 NARRATION: After three years of extreme physical violence and coercive control, Michelle had a lightbulb moment: the only way she could protect her kids was to also protect herself. In October 2018, she wrote to a Detective Sergeant at a police station in Melbourne. She told her she was planning to escape from her partner, and flee with the kids to Sydney.
31:09 MICHELLE: But she passed that information directly on to his manager, who’s his welfare liaison, and also his friend, drinking buddy.
So she didn’t just say, Look, she’s going to blindside him and go, she’s also going to go to Sydney and what she didn’t realize in in disclosing that I was going to Sydney, she was basically disclosing exactly which family I was going to, because he knows all my connections all over the place.
When the inspector told me about it, she was like, Oh, well, we had to do
it, because you were going to blindside him and leave him and we need to make
sure he was supported. They were the words she used, that’s in police
documentation, blindsiding someone by leaving them because you were a victim of
domestic violence, that the word – use of that term says so much, doesn’t it?
31:50 NARRATION: When Michelle’s husband found out she was planning their escape, he lost it.
MCIHELLE: And it got very, very dangerous at home. He ended up hitting my daughter in the head, he went after my son, I got thrown up against a wall, I got punched in the face, and I got raped. It was definitely a control teach you a lesson rape.
So after that, I rang up the inspector and said I needed to have a meeting because
he was going back to work and he was going to get a gun back. And I was really worried about him getting his gun back.
So I met with the inspector at Moonee Ponds Police station, and she said, Oh, rumour round here is you’re going to blindside me and bugger off to Sydney. And I was like, how do you know that?
32:32 NARRATION : The betrayal didn’t just rock Michelle – it devastated her kids.
32:38 LIAM: I mean, we essentially gave them our lifeline.
We were giving them pretty much all our trust and when they gave it to him it was horrible. Because they shattered our trust entirely. I felt betrayed. I felt lost. How could they do this? I thought they’re supposed to be good people. I don’t understand. I was confused, angry.
LILY: Because police aren’t the people in the blue uniform in movies saving the day stopping criminals they’re more like the criminals that are in a gang that protect each other and cover up.
33:25 NARRATION: That’s Lily*, and the voice before hers is Liam*.
They had lived with coercive control, and severe physical violence: on one occasion, when Michelle managed to intercept her husband coming after Liam, they watched him drag their mother down the driveway and beat her head against the mailbox until she passed out.
When police decided to investigate, they interviewed Liam and Lily. The process, for them, was yet another betrayal.
33:55 LIAM: We were treated like criminals. We, it was like an inquisition almost. They went so incredibly hard on us. We felt like we had done something wrong.
My sister can speak about this but once she came out of there, she was crying because they had essentially tried to break her. Because they didn’t believe us. They thought oh –
LILY: They’re lying
LIAM: And I think I think this is an almost exact quote, “they’re just trying to get the full house”. Get the house.
34:33 NARRATION: At the time of the interview with police, Lily was seven. At first, she lied to investigators, to protect her dad.
LILY: Because I didn’t want him to go to jail. I just wanted him to get to get better. And I just wanted him just to go back to when he would call me his little trailer and
play pranks on me.
And but but they –
MUM: Then you told the truth
LILY: Yeah, but at the start they, they said to me, and if you lie, you will go to jail because if you lie to a police officer, you will get in massive trouble. I was seven at
the time! You can’t arrest a seven year old!
35:19 LIAM: Yeah. And I think you, when you came out of there –
LILY: I was crying.
LIAM: Yeah, she was very emotionally distraught.
35:28 NARRATION: It took a year for police to press charges against Michelle’s ex. In July 2019, he was charged with 70 offences, including choking and severe physical assault.
For the year it took to investigate him, and the year it took to go through the courts, he remained a serving police officer on full pay and terrorised Michelle and the kids.
35:53 MICHELLE: What he would do is he would drink and he’d get really violent. And so I knew that if he was drinking, violence would come after a lot of text messages. So he’d send through these abusive text messages.
NARRATION: Michelle knew he’d been told about the video evidence she and the kids had given – and that Liam had said he had witnessed him commit severe physical violence.
36:15 MICHELLE: So he threatened to hunt him down. And I was like I can’t do this. So we told police, they did nothing. The investigator was on holiday said I’ll deal with it when I get back, I’m down the beach for two weeks.
And so we got in the car, and we fled up the Hume. And that went on for the next six months back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And I’m just so lucky, I had the manager that I had, because he was like, I don’t care where you work, just be safe. I just don’t want to see a coronial file on my desk for you. I don’t want to deal with this. Get the hell out of Melbourne.
And I’m just so lucky that he was supportive, because otherwise my ex never would have been charged because the police just dragged it out and dragged out and dragged it out.
36:55 NARRATION: In 2020, after pleading guilty, Senior Constable Darren Hanegraaf became the first serving Victorian police officer in five years to be convicted for family violence. The judge described the offending as serious, persistent and violent. He remained a full member on full pay until nearly a month after he was convicted and sentenced to jail. Then he was suspended on full pay for a few more weeks, until he failed to respond to paperwork requests from Victoria Police.
37:29 MICHELLE: So finally they get around to calling him up for his discipline hearing. And, you know, he resigns just in advance of his discipline hearing so that he can keep all his entitlements. But the issue with Victoria Police is the way their process works and PSC’s they don’t sack anyone until criminal proceedings have finished. But that puts us at massive risk as police wives because he can still access police systems. He can still stalk using police systems, he can get his mates. Whereas when someone’s suspended, they can’t talk to their colleagues. They can’t access police premises so you’ve got that safety.
38:01 NARRATION: On appeal, the now former senior constable had his jail sentence overturned. In its place, he received a community corrections order. The judgment took note of the stress he’d experienced in the police force, and what he may face in jail.
For two years, Victoria Police defended the leaking of Michelle’s safety plans on the grounds of police officer ‘welfare’ – the disclosure was justified, because the senior constable had a history of depression, and would likely be distressed by his family leaving suddenly.
In 2021, after Michelle and Liam were interviewed on Channel Nine and ABC, Victoria Police conceded that this position was not in line with community expectations, and that the family had been victims of serious family violence, and that disclosing the safety plan had caused harm to Michelle, Liam and Lily, and should not have happened.
An independent investigation by Victoria’s police oversight body found several serious failures in the police response: there were no conflict-of-interest processes in place for handling officer involved domestic violence, and there were serious systemic problems with the way Victoria Police investigates and manages family violence claims against its own officers.
Michelle has lobbied Victoria police relentlessly, both directly and in the media. To date, there have been some improvements. There are better protections now for confidentiality, policies for situations where there’s a conflict of interest, and oversight of officer-involved domestic violence investigations. By the end of 2021, Victoria Police will have a new policy on OIDV, and a new unit for managing the highest risk OIDV cases. But whether that will actually provide protection for victim survivors of police – and the general public – is yet to be seen.
Michelle continues to lobby for systemic reform, and is collecting statistical evidence and stories of abuse from victim survivors of OIDV from around Australia. She’s hoping that the voices of police victims will persuade Australian police forces around the country to make the hard, systemic changes.
40:28 MICHELLE: It’s upwards of 50 now of people in the last five years, but I’ve got this more than that, who contacted me. So I got a lot of historic victims contact me, people 10, 15, 20 years ago who have clearly got PTSD, clearly really struggling.
I’m the face of it, because I can be out there. I don’t have a family court order that prevents me from speaking. And a lot of these women have had all sorts of trouble in the family court. They can’t speak about their experiences.
40:51 NARRATION: When police victims get in touch with her, Michelle takes them through a questionnaire – a 2-3 hour interview for her Victim Voices project.
MICHELLE: I’m asking them how they are using the police are using their knowledge, to coercively control them.
I had a victim the other day I was speaking to whose husband’s a detective and he’s shown up to see the independent expert for Family Court in his uniform. He doesn’t normally wear a uniform because he’s a detective, but he’s trying to ya know I’m an authoritative person. She’s crazy. She has a personality disorder. And she’s a domestic violence victim, but that’s what they do – they’re abusing their position all the time.
41:30 So I ask a lot of questions about that abuse of position, the abuse of their mates, but also about the blue family dynamic too. Because if you make a complaint against a police officer, you’re not just taking on him you’re taking on the force because his mates treat it as an officer down situation they all go in to protect him. And generally there’s been a lot of backgrounding going on too; so she’s crazy, she’s cheating on me. All of these unfounded allegations.
JESS: And I just wonder like, have police senior, police had any conversations with you about cultural reform? Or is it all like what’s written on paper.
42:07 MICHELLE: It’s all what’s written on paper. It’s very difficult in Victoria, because of the Police Act, and also the interaction with police union, to discipline a police officer. It’s very difficult to suspend them, and it’s even more difficult to fire them. So they need to amend the police sector. That’s something I’m pushing really hard on at the moment that you can’t change culture with training.
Because training doesn’t change culture, accountability changes culture, and you have to take these toxic guys out of the force because they influence culture.
42:39 NARRATION: Michelle says that even though there’s a culture of protecting mates, it’s not like all police on the ground want to protect perpetrators.
42:48 MICHELLE: Most police officers do not want these guys in the force. And if you speak to the guys in professional standards command, they’re like, ah please amend the police act so we can sack them.
There are good eggs in professional standards command who do care and do want to lean into this and address this, but we need the political will from the chief commissioner’s office.
JESS: this strikes me, as the same scale at which, you know, the Wood Royal Commission in New South Wales had to root out police corruption, you know, paper bags on Williams Street near Kings Cross, you know, all that sort of stuff to pimps and, you know, drug traffickers. This seems like the next step in that in terms of rooting out the perpetrators and the enablers of that culture. Do you think that something of that scale is required for cultural change?
43:40 MICHELLE: I’ve given it my level best and it’s not changing. I mean, it’s changing very slowly. This is a horrendous thing I’m about to say. But I think it’s actually going to take a homicide. It’s going to take a woman getting killed. And I think all the groundwork has been laid in terms of they know there’s a problem, the evidence is there, they can’t cast it off as a one off when it happens. But I don’t think they’re going to change the system until there’s a homicide.
TRANSITION MUSIC PLAYS
44:07 NARRATION: Worldwide, the problem of officer-involved domestic violence has been gaining more attention. As the Black Lives Matter movement draws focus to police brutality, and with some calling to defund the police or abolish them entirely, there is a growing understanding that the cultural problems in policing – of racism, misogyny, and interpersonal crime – are widespread.
Retired Lieutenant Detective Mark Wynne says the whole brotherhood, code of silence, protect your mates culture of policing is easy to fall into.
44:44 MARK WYNNE: You got to understand the relationship between women and men in policing, and firefighting as well, I put him in the same category. This is a different relationship, you build bonds together, saving each other’s lives, like a military, that’s stronger than family. I mean, I mean, I love my family, but none of them ever saved my life. But a lot of cop’s saved my life. And I’m I owe them.
So what will happen with this kind of offender…
They’ll call the marker in, when they’re on the carpet, they’ll call you and say, ‘I need your help, I beat my wife up last night. Remember that time when I saved you on this call? Can you help me?’ And you go, then that’s the test. You know, that’s the moment where you reach a crossroad. You say, ‘Do I want to be a cop? Or I want to be a Club member? Right? You have to make a decision. And some people take one road, some people take the other.
45:33 NARRATION: But just because this culture exists now, doesn’t mean it’s set in concrete. Mark says this code of silence can be broken, but to do that, senior police will have to do more than just fiddle with policies and initiatives.
45:49 MARK WYNNE: you’ll never find a more manipulative offender than a domestic violence offender. Because they’ll talk an officer into locking up the wrong person. I’ve never met a bank robber that convinced me to lock up the bank clerk.
So the answer to this is early intervention. How do we early on intervene? And it starts way before you hire these people. You have to screen them, you have to ask questions about. ‘Have you ever been on protective order? Are you a child survivor of domestic violence?’ if you have been in a relationship, they went bad, check all their addresses of everywhere they live. So you can see if police have responded to those addresses. And then you train your background investigators to understand the true nature of domestic violence because these offenders are very manipulative, and you don’t want these people in ranks. Once they get in ranks, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. And they can wreak havoc on a police department.
46:34 NARRATION: Mark Wynne says police need a reality check – and they need to be a lot more willing to listen to the people they are failing.
46:42 MARK WYNNE: There’s a lot of good women and men who are really, really want to be in law enforcement. So we have to make sure we find those people. But we also have to look at ourselves and do a real careful self assessment of who we are. You know, and that means listening to people who have criticism of us. I hear, and I’m gonna probably get a lot of a lot of hate mail over this. But I hear a lot of people talking about that police, Woe is me. Woe is me? What did you think you’re going to be when you sign up to be a police officer? Do you understand that you work with the public? Do you understand that the culture changes, you have to change with it. And that means listening to victims of domestic and sexual violence, listening to the cultural change in our society around racism, and homophobia that has to be listened to. We’ve reformed police since I got into policing and will continue to reform. Let’s stop complaining. And let’s get to work.
TRANSITION MUSIC PLAYS
JESS: You know both of you if you were sitting in front of the most senior Victorian police officer, someone who had the power to change this. Have you thought in your mind what you would say to them?
47:49 Lily: You go first.
LIAM: I guess I would not be very happy with them. And I would try and get them to understand what, what the system did to us and is doing to other families like us, possibly right now.
They need to treat them, like, not like police officers, they need to take the take the police power out of it. Because he was a police officer he had so many privileges and stuff like that, he, he had so many mates backing him up. Even in court there was like he had a whole bunch of his mates came to support him.
They just don’t think that the perpetrator could do such a thing because the perpetrator has such a two faced way about them. They show different faces to their colleagues than they do to their family.
48:54 Lily: You need to change the system because this is happening to other families all across Australia, and people are dying because of it. People are having to live without their parents, people not being able to get support. Not being able to talk about it, feeling like they’re invisible. And you need to change the system.
49:18 NARRATION: In 2020, Women’s Safety NSW surveyed frontline workers and victim survivors on their experiences working with and reporting to police. There are some positive statistics in there: 76 per cent of frontline workers said they had a good or excellent relationship with police, and almost half said they were satisfied with how police respond to family violence.
Those numbers dip significantly, though, when you speak to individual victim survivors. 34 per cent of victim survivors reported being ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the response they got – and 56 per cent reported being dissatisfied on some level with police. 37 per cent of victim survivors felt police had ‘no understanding’ of the dynamics of domestic and family violence, 32 per cent said police were not at all trauma informed and culturally safe when dealing with them, and 66 per cent said they had experienced hesitation from police to investigate non-physical violence.
50:24 11 per cent of victim survivors said they had been misidentified as the perpetrator.
We didn’t make these episodes on policing to discourage victim survivors, or their friends, family or neighbours from calling police. We made them because it’s past time for senior police around the country to make serious changes to the way they hire police, the way they train them, the way they measure their performance and the level of accountability for police who both fail to respond adequately to domestic violence, and especially – accountability for police who perpetrate against their own families.
As a serving police officer, Natalie is deeply dissatisfied with the level of response.
51:13 NATALIE: I mean, I started my policing career within the past decade. And I recall very specifically, being taught, you know, as a junior officer: if somebody calls up the station, and says that there’s a domestic occurring at, you know, their neighbour’s house, for example, don’t put it on as a domestic, put it on as a noise complaint, because it makes it easier for that, attending car crew to write off.
I remembered just being in absolute shock. I just couldn’t believe it, you know, and so I decided that well, sure, I might be unpopular with the car crew on the road, but I’ll put it on for what it is. I have no issues in putting it on for what it is. Because you know, what, if that neighbour is the only person that can get help to the people inside that home?
52:16 NARRATION: She actually recommends that people reporting domestic violence call Triple Zero instead of their local station.
NATALIE: You know, I have had some friends that have dealt with dv matters recently. And I’ve specifically told them, do not call your local police station, because you don’t know if that phone line is actually recorded or not call triple zero because triple zero must put the job on the system. As you tell it to them, it must be written the way that you describe it to them. So, you know, there’s a big difference between what can happen on a recorded phone line, and what can happen when a phone line at a local station somewhere is, is not recorded. And it’s up to the person inputting the details to write whatever they like.
53:04 NARRATION: Natalie believes there has to be major systemic change to ensure a safe police response.
53:15 NATALIE: It’s almost like you have to take whatever the roster is, however, many people are on your roster at each station for general duties, policing, and cut it in half. And half of those people will do your car accidents and your break and enters and your noise complaints and your dog attacks and everything else that they could possibly respond to in a day and the other half will do just the DV investigation. It’s labor intensive work. And it requires time and energy and effort.
This happens 24 seven, we know that, so you need to have that first responder approach in terms of 24 seven coverage. But you also need, I think, first of all, to advertise it to people that are actually interested in or passionate about it. Rather than just any Tom, Dick or Harry at any police station, where perhaps they couldn’t care less about it.
NARRATION: Retired sergeant Frank Caridi had pretty much the same idea when I spoke to him.
54:24 FRANK: You know, you’ve got the, you know, fire, ambulance, police, SES, why not have something that is specifically aimed and focused on family violence, that’s all they do. That is all they do.
FRANK: Maybe in that process, you know, you would free up so much time of the police force so that if they want to go off and patrol, I don’t know, beaches with jet skis or whatever, they can do that. But they’re not tied up with doing domestic violence stuff that they obviously just don’t want to do.
54:57 OUTRO NARRATION: There’s no easy answers here. It’s one thing to demand the abolition of police – and maybe there is a pathway to a future where that’s possible – but right now there really is no viable alternative to what police to, however imperfectly: respond to violent emergencies, create some increased safety (when they actually do that) for victim survivors, and enforce some kind of accountability for high-risk perpetrators. But, given the resistance to change, it can seem naive to believe in the possibility of reform.
The message to police needs to be stark: you receive billions of dollars to respond to domestic violence. It’s your core business. If you want to keep that funding, you must do this work to the same standard as firefighters responding to fires and paramedics respond to medical emergencies. Incremental improvement is not good enough. The whole business of policing domestic violence needs a fundamental rethink; the difficulty of institutional change can not be an excuse for a status quo that fails so many.
THEME SONG PLAYS
Of course, it’s not just police that can create further risk for victim survivors. These failures are being reflected across various systems and institutions – that are too easily gamed by perpetrators, and are not just failing to protect victim survivors, but are actually perpetuating their abuse.
That’s where we’re headed next time, on The Trap.
You’ve been listening to The Trap, proudly brought to you by the Victorian Women’s Trust and its harm prevention entity the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls. We would like to thank all of our supporters and donors. Special thanks to Equity Trustees & the Phyllis Connor Trust, the Bokhara Foundation and a private donor.
Our Creative Producer and editor is Georgina Savage. Co producers are Ally Oliver Perham , Maria Chetcuti , Mary Crooks and Lucy Ballantyne. Special thanks to Leah McPherson and the team at the Victorian Women’s Trust. The Trap was mixed by Romy Sher and Pariya Taherzadeh . I’m your head writer, producer and host, Jess Hill.
This podcast was produced in Sydney and Melbourne and we respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.
We would like to acknowledge the victim survivors and others who have generously shared their stories and expertise.
If today’s topics have raised any issues for you, help is available. Contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or, if you are seeking specialist LGBTQI support, contact With Respect, on 1800 542 847, or see our show notes for a full list of support services.
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Thank you for listening.