From “Protector” to Unprotected
A story on Intimate Partner Violence
Written by Jennifer Marcellis
It was a frigid day in mid-January. After a long shift, I finally reached my driveway. As I pull in, I see “HER” car, a purple Monte Carlo. When I say “her” car I am speaking of a woman by the name of Maureen. A woman whom I loved and had a prior intimate relationship with. Maureen and I had dated on and off for quite some time but at this particular point…. it was already a relationship that I had tried to end for years.
When she stepped out of her that Monte Carlo, she demanded from me as to what had become of our demise. So “Tell me, What was it?…Well, Are you Listening to me?”
Still talking, she followed me inside. Standing in the kitchen I said “Just leave! I have nothing more to say.” I walked away. Seconds later, my hearing went out. Everything seemed slow and… there was blood.
A lot of blood.
Red painted the sleeve of my white sweatshirt and coated my hands…My arm suspended, paralyzed, unable to move.
I had been shot.
I don’t remember the bullet piercing through my skin. I just remember the amplification of silence, a temporary deafness; the taste of gun powder particles in my mouth.
Image is Powerful. But as much as it is powerful, it can also be superficial… Many see the silver badge pinned to my chest, pressed and pleated polyesters and my duty weapon at my side. A layer beneath, a physique of muscularity and tattoos… I looked nothing like a “victim” and maybe that was why I wasn’t perceived as one.
Women can be violent and can be victimized by women. We know this, but we often don’t believe it. We are bound by social stigmas regarding men as aggressors, and women as vulnerable, weak, and fragile.
I’ve been a cop for 18 years, and I see how cops deal with LGBTQ violence. Two men, “That’s just a battery,” break them up, and send them on their ways. Two women, “Just a cat fight.” Those are the assumptions made, I see it all the time. We minimize accountability and hostility, and we minimize intentional criminal behaviors because of the stigma that women are viewed as the softer, gentler gender. I was shot by the hand of a woman- this was clearly aggravated domestic violence. Whether we look strong or we look weak should have no bearing on our likelihood or ability to be or be viewed as offenders or as survivors.
She and I were inseparable. There was a certain need to need each other. She was much older than I was, and there was a mysteriousness in her eyes that I hadn’t seen before, and it drew me in. I knew from the beginning that something in my veins told me to question the beginning of “us”. But I had ignored it. I found myself reciting her better qualities in a mere manner of self-convincing. She was successful, independent, and was the kind of woman that could start and put out her own fires!
After living together for only months, I saw a different side, or better yet only side- her “Friday night side”. I didn’t always see her drinking, but the smell of alcohol on her breath, and on her lips, seemed incessant.
I would find half drunken or empty Vodka bottles in her glove box, under the back wooden porch, and hidden in dog food bags. I don’t know if she hid those bottles or just drank so much that she had forgotten where she left them.
After being shot, I underwent extensive surgery for an injury medically termed as Brachial Plexus. Brachial Plexus Neuropathy (BPN), refers to damage to a single nerve or a set of nerves, specifically where nerves from the spinal cord branch into the arm nerves. What the doctors waited to tell me was the damage to my nervous system would be permanent; and due to the inability to fully use my right arm or hand to I likely could never be a cop or body-build again.
By the time I got home from the hospital, most of the blood had been cleaned up in the kitchen, but I somehow was still able to find its trace. In between the crevices of the hardwood flooring, in the decorative patterns of the cabinet knobs, resting in the scratches of the stainless-steel sink, and imbedded in the porous granite stone countertops. Blood was all around me. Trying to put the pieces together, I stared into the stainless-steel fridge where the Glock .357 left its mark. The big hole, right there in plain view. There was no wiping that off.
I didn’t hear much at all from my agency, but it wasn’t long before the incident hit the paper and the local media read “Lesbian Cop shot by her Lover,” “Lesbian Love Triangle ends with Cop Shot.” I can’t begin to tell you how messed up the incident sounded when the media got a hold of it. Was I embarrassed? Absolutely. Could I see why my chief would be embarrassed? Absolutely. It was obvious the word Lesbian was used to target an audience and exploit my sexuality to make this seriousness of the shooting sound like some a circus act.
There was no transparency. Instead, an internal investigation ensued into allegations against me for “not living an exemplary lifestyle” and “bringing ill-repute” to the police department.
I learned she admitted to loading the gun while standing in my driveway, then shoving it in her waist band prior to me arriving home. She told officers several inconsistent stories as to how the gun went off. “She was showing me how to clean and take apart my gun”, “I was just trying to scare her,” “She shot herself on accident.”
The investigating officers and the States Attorney’s Office did not view the crime as domestic violence as there was no proof of a relationship. They also said they could not prove she had the “intent to commit a crime,” therefore it must have been an accident. It was clear they were blowing my case off entirely. How was it that our criminal justice system had completely disregarded such violence? I remember staring into the hole of my wound, and the blackened stippling of burnt skin in search for these answers. Was it because she was a woman, because we were both women, because she didn’t look “masculine or butch enough,” because she didn’t have a criminal history, because she was a middle-aged white woman with a professional career or maybe it was because I didn’t look like a feminine, vulnerable, victim. And after all, I was a police officer, and I guess that alone makes me unable to also be victimized.
There was no direct emulation or imitation of a heterosexual relationship, therefore they couldn’t visualize what this violence was. This contributed to lessening Maureen’s criminality and allowing my victimization to become almost non-existent.
The final decision by the court was the charge of Reckless Discharge of a Firearm. The complaint as it was prepared, never indicated that I was shot or injured, it merely stated “a weapon was discharged in a dwelling where people are expected to be present.” This lack of injustice was absolutely devastating.
I spent months and months in recovery, teaching myself to use my left arm defensively and tactically. I forced myself to keep shooting, sometimes with tears of anger in my eyes, as I numbed myself to that familiar sound of the firing pin.
Almost 6 months later, against all odds, I was medically cleared by my doctor, and the department’s doctor to return to full duty. Despite this, I was denied and told there was too much uncertainty as to whether I could still perform this job. I had to see specialist after specialist, fighting their resistance to my return and fighting for my career- something that was going so well and then stolen from me twice, once by her and then by them.
I left that agency and rebuilt my career. Now, almost 10 years later, when I step into that range for monthly qualifications, it is with instinct that I relay on my non-dominant side, and the smell of burnt cordite and that rapid displacement of air reminds me how close I could have come.
Research shows that intimate partner violence is occurring at about the same rate in heterosexual relationships thank in LGBTQ relationships yet dual arrests in LGBTQ relationships are shown to between 10–30x higher. What does that mean? It means that the police aren’t recognizing survivors in the LGBTQ community and that needs to change!
Although I despised the lack of efforts from law enforcement, I didn’t give up on the efforts of our criminal justice entirely. Instead, I came back stronger and with a mission to increase awareness and improve police recognition and response to IPV in LGBTQ relationships. Police officers need to be aware of the family dynamic differences in LGBTQ relationships in order to properly identify intimate partner violence. It is only when the criminal justice system understands the victimology and marginalities LGBTQ intimate partner violence that this cultural shift can begin.
Being Fearless is being honest, and so I speak this truth from a unique perspective; a lens of “within” and “against” the criminal justice system through my scars- the ones I wear, and the ones I won’t forget. I still remind myself that I am lucky.
If you or a loved one is experiencing violence, the Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted is here to help.
The Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted empowers LGBTQ communities and allies to be free from violence and the effects through free counseling, resource linkage, advocacy, education, and community engagement. If you or someone you know are currently feeling unsafe, targeted, or isolated, we can help. We are available Monday — Friday from 9am-5pm via our resource line (773–871–2273) and email (email@example.com). Our services can also be accessed via our no appointment needed, walk-in hours on Monday and Friday from 10am-noon.