Police victims shine a light on violence
TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains descriptions of partner and family violence, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, that some readers may find disturbing.
Today, some of New Zealand’s police staff are doing more than wearing a white ribbon - they are sharing their own experiences of violence, recalling deeply personal accounts as victims and shining a light on a dark part of their past.
In an incredibly brave move, five police staff have brought their own life stories to share with the public.
Their hope is that by sharing their stories, they will make it easier for other victims of violence to come forward and seek help.
Their bravery extended to wanting to be openly identified, but for legal reasons some of our officers cannot be identified.
Read their stories below.
*The victim's name has been changed and face blurred to protect the identities of the parties involved.
I always wanted to be a police officer, but he told me I would never make it. Well I made it, and it was only while at Police College training as a recruit, that I first heard about psychological abuse only then realising, that I too was the victim in that power and control wheel they talk about.
Throughout our relationship, he had always been controlling but after graduation he was even worse. He would check my phone constantly and didn’t allow me to socialise with friends or even family, especially not other men.
This all came to a head one Christmas Eve when I picked him up and he was drunk. I said I’d had enough of his behaviour and went to bed.
The first punch he delivered shattered my forearm, then more and more punches followed. I covered my head as much as possible. Then his hands were around my neck and I was struggling to breathe. I managed to bite his thumb and he released his grip.
More punches followed and I gave up. I stopped struggling and thought 'this is it, I am going to die'.
No one could hear me. No one was coming to help. He then told me he would slit my throat at 6am; it was only 4am.
I thought, ‘well he will have to go to the kitchen to get the knife, so I will jump out this two-story window and run’. I firmly believed he was going to kill me.
Somehow, I managed to calm him. I started talking to him, recalling the good times - anything to distract him.
Six o’clock came and went. I asked to be taken to hospital claiming I would say that I fell down the stairs. He cleaned up my face and put a cap on me and we went. At the hospital, I couldn’t physically fill in the form, so he did. I quietly asked for help from the hospital staff, they took me away to another room, and I was finally safe.
They called Police for me. He was arrested at the hospital that night and charged.
I was in a ward for a few days with a plate and pins that had been put in my arm.
Later, my family moved me out of the house, and I stayed with them. My work colleagues and boss were incredibly supportive, they visited me in hospital. I used the counselling available through work.
I understand that often the hardest thing is getting the support to leave the relationship.
I wasn’t going back to mine. It was lucky we didn’t have shared bank accounts.
I followed his court case and never went back to him.
In my police work, I can relate to victims of family violence easily and sometimes I talk about what happened to me so they know I understand their situation. I use my personal experience and my 20-plus years' policing experience to encourage people to leave if they need to get out and seek help.
I now have a great relationship; I live in a safe and loving marriage with a supportive husband and I am so glad I asked for help when I did.
Please ask for the help you deserve - everyone deserves to feel safe with their intimate partners.
Growing up, I was the youngest of four before my parents separated. Dad cheated on my mother with another woman who became my step-mum. He had two children with her.
This meant fights for custody and trying to grow up around excessive conflict. As children, we were put in the middle of their divorce and it was then we realised that they came first.
It was a real mess and, as a small child, the arguments felt huge. Three very angry adults all losing their emotional cool and taking it out on us meant I was starting to fall behind at school. I was trying desperately to be a good kid, but I wasn’t coping with the basics.
I ended up suicidal at the age of seven, writing my first suicide letter and self-harming using scissors.
I was wetting the bed every night until I was 12 - a normal occurrence from stress. I ended up with Complex Post Traumatic Stress and anxiety.
High school was a huge change, and it was difficult to adapt to making new friends in a new environment.
After my sister left home, it was just me and Mum, which meant I was easy prey for the older brother of one of my friends, who was in his 30s. He and his young teenage female fiancé sexually groomed me. I was just 14 at the time.
I trusted him enough come out to him as transgender - he would help bind my breasts flat. I didn’t realise as a child how inappropriate that situation was.
I started losing interest in school, and my peer group. He offered me pornography and would buy me junk food, I felt wanted. I felt special and wanted by this older couple. I started choosing him over school and left.
After leaving school I took a job at a local takeaway place, and this man got a job there too. I had lost interest in people my own age and lost connections to the safety of school. Being transgender, I didn’t know how to fit in at school, so it became much easier for that to happen.
By age 15, I had no school, no motivation, and no life-skills to handle adulthood. I started to spend excessive amounts of time on the street, hanging out with other street kids, and hanging out around adult nightlife. Sometimes if I was lucky, I would find a friend’s house to sleep.
Later in life, after sexual reassignment surgery, I used relationships to help me escape and I moved cities again. I believed that there would be more options in a larger city to meet people who were different, like me.
I dated a couple of men which didn’t work out until I found one who seemed charming. But he was controlling and didn’t want me to join Police. He humiliated me and treated me extremely poorly; he expected sex on demand. We broke up for a time, but then agreed to be platonic friends.
I thought I was safe with him, but he used the first opportunity to sexually assault me when we were alone in my apartment.
I didn’t realise that even small things, like refusing to listen to basic boundaries would grow into something much larger and was a build-up to worse behaviour. I thought that I had to continue to keep the peace and remain submissive, to not rock the boat, but I was wrong.
Joining Police a few years ago has been an incredible growth journey and has taught me to be safer and to hold myself in higher regard. It’s increased my mana and is slowly teaching me how to belong.
I really thought I had to be a superhuman or from a perfect upbringing to become a police officer. It’s incredible that I’ve had awful things happen but have come out of it with my chin up. Trauma no longer defines me, nor limits my life.
I never made a complaint to Police about that sexual assault at the time as I wasn’t strong enough. If I was ever assaulted again, I know that I can be heard – there’s help for me and other transgender people and I am speaking out to help others develop their inner strength.
Felicity: Forensic officer
*The victim’s name has been changed and face blurred to protect the identities of parties involved.
Three words describe my relationship in my teens, Once Were Warriors. I saw that movie at the theatre, alone. I could relate and nothing about it shocked me.
He started off charming but then started showing signs of possessiveness, controlling behaviour and emotional abuse. Then he turned into a monster.
My mother died when I was a teenager, and at a young age I met this man, a dangerous abusive man. He dished out hidings and beatings. I endured being thrown around like a rag doll onto our glass top coffee table.
I weighed only 47kg, but he was 95kg. He would lift me up by the neck with one hand and as if I was a softball, would pitch me to the end of the hallway.
The strangulations, punches, the kicks to my back while already down on the ground… and all while wearing steel-capped boots - he did it all. I don’t know how I survived.
I didn’t know any different, I just thought this was the next step in life to adulthood, but I felt trapped and he made it hard for me to leave.
He would threaten violence in public, however, carry out his threats behind closed doors. I had no landline and mobile phones weren’t even a thing back then.
He made threats that he would kill members of my family if I ever told anyone what was happening, so I kept quiet for their safety. I was cut off from my family and was never allowed to visit them alone.
From being one minute late home from work to selecting the wrong video to rent I would get a hiding, often fuelled by alcohol, but not always.
This was his family’s ‘norm’, but it wasn’t normal for me. I hid everything that was happening to me because I was ashamed, and I felt that I couldn’t escape on my own.
I felt trapped because of the threats. He had power over me, no one wanted to confront him, everyone feared him, nobody wanted to speak. Nobody warned me of what he was capable of.
Excuses were regularly made for his behaviour so I often looked around the house for the perfect place to hang myself, but I knew that wasn’t the answer because he would have won.
One day a relative saw bruising on my arms - she asked me where I got them from, and my eyes gestured in his direction. From that point she promised to get me out, but to keep in communication with her was difficult with no phone – I had to walk to the dairy making excuses to buy milk, but instead used the pay phone.
She decided with the help of The Women’s Refuge to get me out and we planned to do it while he was at work. I would pack a few things each night into a suitcase and hide the case until it was time for me to leave.
The day came, but he had decided to stay home from work, so the plans had to change for the next day. I made another trip to the dairy to use the pay phone to arrange it.
The next day I drove him to work, then went back home, pulled my suitcase out, got into the car and drove away. There was such an enormous feeling of relief as I hit the motorway. It made me cry because I was finally free, and I couldn’t drive fast enough to my safe destination.
I had started my new life and never wanted to look back. I stayed at the refuge for two weeks. It was enough time to sort legal documents and I was successful in obtaining court orders with the affidavit I made of the accounts of the violence.
During the entire time we lived together he never once apologised for the abuse he dished out to me.
I lived with a relative for a while until I got back on my feet. She took care of my well-being, from making me clothes to making sure I was eating right, and she played the role of Mum as I’d lost mine at the age of 16.
My experience inspired me to learn how to deal with all walks of life. I am a different person and that life is behind me now. I credit my relative for helping me escape.
My message to family and friends is this; if you think something is not right, check it out. Keep an eye out for your loved ones and look for signs of abuse. Get familiar with signs of personality changes, if they are normally bubbly, why have they lost that? Offer help and encourage them to reach out and not be ashamed.
Everyone needs to know their self-worth. No one should have to live in fear, no one has the right to take your life away from you.
Jaimie Leigh: Detective
As a child I experienced psychological family harm and my parents separated when I was seven. I remember my dad walking out the door with packed bags and asking where he was going. I very rarely saw him after that.
I attended seven primary schools before the age of nine and I struggled with making and maintaining healthy friendships because of this. I also spent time in Cholmondeley Home, a care respite centre for struggling children.
While I feel my childhood was probably not that unusual to many, I know the extensive trauma and fear it created within me as a child which meant I also struggled with relationships in my teens and early 20s. I suffered from chronic illness and lacked confidence.
My father has given me his blessing to share our story as he has chosen to take the path of healing instead of remaining angry.
My father was one of four children and he lost his mother when he was three. He was adopted without his siblings to another family member who then died not long after. My father was then sent to a boarding school where he was subjected to sexual abuse while he was just a boy.
Because of this abuse, as an adult he became a very angry man. He could be holding onto a glass and be triggered to the point where his bare hand crushed the glass, smashing it onto the floor.
I was lucky in that my father was never physically abusive towards me. However, the psychological harm and the fear instilled was so significant it’s taken me 15 years of intense physical, emotional, mental and spiritual work to rewire old thought patterns and behaviour that I developed as a child.
Part of that healing process for me has been going back to Cholmondeley Home as a police officer and helping in the hope I can offer some encouragement to children who desperately need it, like I once did.
My experience has influenced my policing. I was in the Police Family Protection team for three years and have great empathy with victims. I have a great ability to make people feel safe because I understand how difficult it is to speak out.
It is only through my own extensive healing that I can achieve this. Those who have not significantly healed their past struggle will project unconsciously their own unhealed trauma, although they don’t know that’s what it is.
I have been in the Police for 15 years now and I’ve come to understand the impact of generational trauma on the community and the importance to have the courage to break that cycle. Reach out for help if you need it – it will change your life.
Genevieve: Senior Sergeant
*The victim’s name has been changed and face blurred to protect the identities of parties involved.
When I was younger, I was in a relationship which quickly became toxic. My boyfriend at the time exhibited control over me, was extremely jealous and verbally abusive.
I was cut off from my family and friends for over a year, wasn’t allowed any other men’s numbers on my phone and was forced to have an abortion against my personal beliefs.
Throughout the course of the relationship my feelings of self-confidence plummeted. He broke my property in anger and I considered suicide as I felt it my only option to escape, and it made me so angry to think that he had such control and power over me. I was a smart, confident women – where had she gone?
On several occasions I tried to leave but as he would regularly remind me that I didn’t have friends and family anymore, I felt helpless to go. He told me the police wouldn’t believe me and I felt too scared to say anything.
On one occasion I physically tried to leave but he grabbed me by my arms and threw me on the bed, resulting in significant bruising on my arms. His response to this was that it wouldn’t have happened if my arms weren’t so fat. I wasn’t fat, I was an average build normal-sized female, but he had me questioning my worth based on my appearance.
I realised that if this situation involved someone I cared about, my advice to them would be to get out of it and I questioned why I wasn’t taking my own advice. When I saw an opportunity to reconnect with family, I took it and they helped me to leave, offering me a place to stay and start over.
It took a little while for him to accept the relationship was over and it was during these times that the support from family and friends was crucial to me staying strong.
Later in my Police career I went on to lead our local Family Safety Team. I was able to connect with women in particular as I understood so many of the feelings they described to me, but it also brought back a lot of feelings I hadn’t dealt with and for a period and I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Police supported me through counselling to talk through this issue and I feel comfortable sharing my story if it helps others see their way clear to get out of relationships that don’t serve you well.
I see the efforts our Family Harm team go to to help those in need and wish I had known about this when I needed it most. Please reach out for help if anyone harms you physically, sexually or psychologically - nobody has the right to make you feel like you don’t deserve safety, love and respect.
If you suspect someone close to you is a victim of family violence or feel something is not right, it’s okay to act on it – you could save a life. Call 111 or visit www.police.govt.nz/family-violence-help
* Three of the names of our victims have been changed to protect people’s privacy pursuant to privacy principle 11 (IPP11) (link is external).