This chap came in to an Urgent Care Centre where I was working with a young lady and a toddler in a buggy who looked about two years old. After our polite introductions he said to me;
“I’d like you to document all my injuries; I’ve been a victim of police brutality and I’m covered in bruises” He started to pull his sweater off to show me his war wounds as he spoke.
“Oh dear, let’s start at the beginning, when did this happen?” I asked. “Tell me all about it….” He proceeded to fill me in and said something like this….
“It happened five days ago. I don’t drink often, but when I do – well you know…. well I can go a bit mad. This night me and my bird both had a few cans and we was well p***ed up. I can’t hardly remember it to be honest. Anyway, me and her started fighting. I called the police ‘cos it was getting right out of hand. When they arrived though, I wouldn’t let them in to the flat and they had to kick the front door in. If you knew me, you’d know I wouldn’t hurt anyone; I’m more of a danger to myself than anyone else if I’m honest. But, when the police got in, I had this bread knife in my hand, I only waved it at them, I wasn’t gonna use it to hurt anyone. Well, they just all piled on top of me – half a dozen of them. They pushed me face down to the floor and held on to my arms and legs, they banged my arm to make me drop the knife. Look at the state of me – I’m covered in f***ing bruises. But what I don’t understand is that I am right handed, and it’s my left arm that is really bad – look at it it’s black and blue, and look where the handcuffs were – they was put on too tight”
“Where was the child during this? He must have been very frightened” I asked.
“No, he was alright, he was in his bedroom, he’s used to anyway it we’re always rowing” they both chorused laughing.
“It’s her I normally get the bruises off!” he pointed mock accusingly at ‘his bird’ who raised an eyebrow as she turned her head away smiling.
“Like I said I can’t even bloody remember it ‘cos I was that drunk”
After enquiring about his normal state of health, medications and allergies, I conducted a full examination and logged all his injuries as requested.
We talked about how, as an epileptic, he shouldn’t have been drinking alcohol with his medication. He said he realised this and that’s why he rarely drank (only a couple of times a week in fact), but he admitted that when he did drink, things could get ‘ugly’ and they’d often end up arguing. Sometimes their arguing spiralled in to more dangerous territory and slaps and punches were exchanged between them.
At the end of the consultation I could bear it no longer – I asked him how much responsibility he was willing to accept for what had happened to him. He didn’t seem to know what I meant. So, I suggested to him that if he was aware that things got ‘ugly’ when he got very drunk (his word not mine) he may wish to seek help for his harmful drinking, perhaps they both should I added. I pointed out that this would be for the good of their child as well as themselves. I then said;
“As a paramedic and with friends and colleagues in the police service I am used to being called to situations such as this. We have the right to go to work and not be threatened or stabbed with drunks with knives and should be able to do what is necessary to keep ourselves safe. We have families that we love and wish to return home to at the end of our working day. If you hadn’t got yourself in to that state, called the police to your flat and then waved a bread knife at them, we wouldn’t even be sitting here having this conversation would we?”
They both seemed genuinely surprised that I saw the situation in this way.
“Well I don’t even remember it like I said but when you put it like that I suppose it’s fair enough” he shrugged. I surprised them again when I told them that I also now had no choice but to refer the child to Social Services. They had told me clearly that the little lad was regularly exposed to Domestic Violence (DV) in his own home between the very people who should be keeping him safe from harm. How awful for him to have to be around to hear or even see his parents yelling, throwing insults and punches at each other. How could they look after him when they were regularly too drunk to realise how damaging their behaviour was for all involved.
There is a strong correlation between DV and child neglect and abuse and factors such as problem drinking increase the likelihood and risks to the child. Once a health professional becomes aware of the presence of DV they have a responsibility to make a referral to Social Services for any children less than 18 years of age in the household. If the danger is believed to be significant or imminent then obviously the police should also be alerted promptly.
If you are worried that a child is being neglected or abused or witnessing Domestic Violence please refer to this helpful advice from the NSPCC or call the police.