Content warning: References to domestic violence, police brutality, sexual assault, drinking, racism and involuntary sectioning in a psychiatric ward.
I have relied on the police at times. Once, after an incident with a boyfriend, they took photos of my injuries and told me to come back after I’d sobered (we‘d been drinking wine on a balcony overlooking the city), and once, when I had my window smashed by an aggressive man in a ute screaming at me to get out of the town (“everyone here hates you, you schizophrenic”) they were there to help with the reports I needed.
Until my thirties, I was under the misguided illusion that police protect and serve the public.
After another incident regarding the same boyfriend (I thought he had found me after I moved), I rang the police, fearing for my safety, but despite the history of violence, they didn’t take me seriously. I had a history of mental illness. Maybe they thought I was just a madwoman being paranoid.
Whatever their reason, it made me feel like I had no rights and that I could not rely on them to protect me.
Sometime later, after a stay in a psychiatric ward, I moved into a nightmare of a share-house. The landlord’s son would put up all sorts that polite society frowns upon, making it the sort of place where you liked to keep a close eye on your belongings.
One morning, I rang to cancel a psychiatry appointment (I had cold symptoms) not aware that this would trigger a call to the CATT (crisis assessment and treatment team). I was relaxing in my room when they arrived and became annoyed at their presence. I was irate when I told them to go away and get off the property. They left. I went back to my room.
All of a sudden, a group of police entered. One looked aggressive to me – eyes like he was under the influence of stimulants. I couldn’t understand their presence in my room. I had done nothing wrong. I was forcibly grabbed, thrown on the ground and handcuffed. They threw me into the back of a paddy wagon, leaving me with bruises. I was driven to hospital and put in a high dependency ward against my will.
It wasn’t explained to me until later that the CATT had wrongly stated that I threatened them with a brick.
During that stay in the ward, all I could think about was how I was going to get to work and explain this, and how I wanted to get back home as I didn’t want to leave my wallet unattended at the house.
Sometime after this, I decided to visit my parents. I wasn’t well, and I had been drinking, and my relationship with my parents is complicated. When I wasn’t let into the house, I broke the door down and started laying punches into my dad. This was out of character. I never thought I could throw a punch before that day.
I understand why my parents took out a restraining order, but I was in some denial about it at the time, and thought I could still try talking to them. The police were called when I approached the house as I had broken the order. They took me to hospital, but I wasn’t deemed sick, despite my history, and was taken to lock-up and put in a cell overnight. I was shocked that I had ended up there. It smelled. I heard abuse from an officer outside the door all night: “You filthy Abo”.
I wasn’t given an opportunity to pick up some clothes between the arrest and the court hearing, and ended up making my way through a small city where everyone knows everyone, dressed in prison garb.
When I was in my late thirties, my home was broken into and I was sexually assaulted. I woke to hear people in my room. They’d come through an unlocked window. I froze.
The ordeal was over quickly and I rang both a friend and a support service straight away. The friend was unwilling to go to the police with me (she’d had issues with them herself), and I was too shaken to go alone.
A few days later, another friend rang the police for me. They didn’t let me make a statement, but they took my friend aside to talk with her. I can’t know for certain, but I suspect my mental state was discussed.
I relocated to a rural town where I went straight to the local police and tried to report the incident again. They seemed dismissive but said they’d pass it on to the nearest city detectives. The sexual assault counsellor I’d seen also reported the incident, but the perpetrators were never found.
As I write this, I have moved to Melbourne. I regularly read articles about police mistreatment and I get angry and sad when I read stories about Indigenous people and people with mental health problems dying in custody. It seems the police have little mental health training, and too often their answer to a difficult situation is to use force. Sometimes deadly force.
My own experiences have taught me not to trust them and to be wary of them in public.