As a child, I saw my mother's boyfriend regularly smash her face and body

DC Kevin Shapland, the co-ordinator for the Metropolitan Police's community safety units, got in touch with me after I wrote an article on the improvements in local police attitudes to assaults on and abuse of women. He wanted to enlist my help to "support" his force's latest "initiatives". In my living room, he sipped coffee and was enthusiastic in a puppyish way about the racial and violent crimes task force. I was polite, impartial and unconvinced.

I have had first-hand experience of the Met's approach to "domestics". Between the ages of 12 and 17, I witnessed a boyfriend of my mother's regularly smash her face, her body and everything we owned. These terrifying encounters were enough to leave me fantasising about murder and suicide on alternate days.

The humiliation and contempt inflicted on us by the local police convinced my teenage brain that somehow we deserved the violence and destruction. At the time, we didn't have a phone, so calling for help was a dangerous, risky last resort. One evening, with my mother semi-conscious on the floor and my younger sister locked in our bedroom, I sprinted down to a neighbour's flat to call the police. I was hysterical and convinced that, this time, he really would carry out his threat to "kill the lot of you".

After what seemed like hours, I was put through to a sergeant who, on hearing the address, immediately huffed: "Not you again. Weren't we at your place just last night? Why don't you stay where you are and wait for it all to blow over?"

When I returned home, the boyfriend realised that I had tried to have him arrested and so went on a rampage, covering the hall walls with our mother's blood.

Two officers arrived several hours later, when "he" was crashed out on the sofa. The police surveyed the bloody scene with bored expressions and then left.

Happily, the man responsible for these years of misery was eventually taken into custody. His crime? Kicking a police officer on the shin and attempting to punch another. These minimal acts of aggression, not the beatings and threats we suffered for more than five years, had him thrown in a cell.

I sat down one afternoon and read the leaflets that DC Shapland had left behind. It took me some time to get past the inside front cover, where Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Met, was quoted: "Domestic violence is one of the most pernicious denials of human rights . . . The Met police service aims . . . to help bring an end to the suffering caused by this devastating crime." The words blurred and I started to cry. I cried until my nose bled. Then I stopped crying and offered to speak at the Met's seminar on the implications of domestic violence.

The two-day conference at the QEII centre in Westminster at the end of October was impressive. I spoke briefly, in a small side hall, on the psychological effects suffered when children witness violence in the home. I focused mercilessly on Met officers' treatment of women and children in such a situation. I felt vengeful, angry. As I shakily left the platform, two women in suits and brandishing business cards approached me. One lady worked for Refuge. The other was a press officer for the Met's task force. "Would you be interested in doing interviews on this subject?" she asked. "It's a message we need to hear."

I walked in the rain to Westminster, wondering if the time has finally arrived when a "domestic" call will no longer be considered a waste of time by officers and the justice system. If that happens, maybe my nightmares will stop, too.

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The fall of civic culture