carine hartman 2021

By Carine Hartman

Chief sub-editor

Police response is a matter of life or death

The police failed her. Don’t they understand, she really, really tried to break free when she walked into that cop shop?

I see the blood on her forehead through the gate and I know, he’s beaten her up again.

I’ve known of the abuse for a long time. In August I took a picture of her bruised hip when he mercilessly hit her with a piece of wood. In November she had a black eye. In December her rib was broken.

We have the same conversation over and over again: “You need to lay a charge and have him locked up.” “Just leave.” “Let’s have his legs broken.”

We laugh, but fear rules her. I’ve heard all the threats: how he wakes her up in the night with “Your time is coming. I’m going to kill you.”

But she didn’t leave – until this morning. She’s always known I am her safe house, no matter what time of night. “Just get in your car and come straight here.”

She did. “He smashed my head into the wall. I didn’t do or say anything. I’m petrified.”

Three cups of sweet, sweet tea later the tears and blood have dried and we are making a plan. My Irishman who was a reservist in the Child Protection Unit gets a call. He duly takes pictures of the cut above her eye; on her nose, the swelling on her forehead.

He explains the steps to her: “Go to the Yeoville police station and open a case. You’ll get a form for the doctor at Hillbrow clinic to document your injuries. He’ll be arrested by nightfall and not be allowed to come near you.”

But I can smell her fear. “He knows people …”

I try to bolster her: “No, he won’t put a hit on you, he’ll be in jail. Take it a step at a time. First step, the cops. Second step, the doctor.”

By the time I leave for work she is braver, but I hold my breath. I get the call soon after lunch: “I tried to open a case but the cops won’t. They insist I must see the doctor first. Hillbrow clinic sent me to the wrong place. Let’s leave it…”

No. I’ll phone the police station. Seven wrong numbers later a constable finds my wrath on the other end of the line: “How dare you not open a case? Have you any idea what courage it took for her to even walk into that station?”

I’m told she can come back. He’ll open a case.

And she did, but a new constable is on duty and again insists on the doctor’s form.

I explode over the phone again. “Is this how you treat beaten-up women? Had you done your job earlier and given us a docket number we could’ve had a restraining order in place tonight. And why isn’t a female officer dealing with her?”

He puts the phone down on me, but a female officer at long last opened a file, I heard.

I marvel at my friend’s courage and organise my doctor to see her that night. He’s around the corner and she’ll be sleeping at my safe house.

Only, she didn’t. There’s no sign of her when I come home. “Yes, she did open the case,” my youngest tells me. “But the cops wanted her to go with them to arrest him. She just couldn’t. Told the female officer she’ll think about it first. The file landed in the wastebasket …”

I am raging. Yes, you’re all probably right: she’s a typical victim who just can’t break free.

But the police failed her. Don’t they understand, she really, really tried to break free when she walked into that cop shop? The courage it took to even try for a second time? Don’t they understand she is petrified of him and really, really doesn’t want to be there when they arrest him? Don’t they understand all she wanted was a case number?

I get a message late that night: “All is calm here. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

But the window of opportunity is now closed. She’ll never try again. I know.

I will bury my friend soon.

I know.

Carine Hartman.

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