4.2 Assault isn't part of the job
This series of blog posts was developed for the Fine Literature Book Club on Facebook. Crossing the Line was their April 2022 group read, and I was honored to lead the discussion.
“Assault isn’t part of the job. My first priority is to make sure you live until end of shift, preferably unscathed, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.”
We have already addressed the potential for violence on the job. What this portion of the text seeks to address are the perceptions of the workers who are subject to assault.
As a medic, I was assaulted by both patients and a coworker. I did not press charges. The culture of the time was such that you shrugged it off. This was never explicitly expressed, but culture is an accumulation of systemic structures and small, nearly imperceptible social cues. Happily, this is changing.
One method of changing this system is by enacting laws that increase the penalties for individuals who attack public safety workers in the line of duty. Personally, I do not support such laws. The breakdown I see is not in the ability to charge people, but that victims are not supported nor encouraged to file charges–increased penalties does not fix this problem. What it does accomplish is an increase in the divide between workers and the public, to see those whom we serve as “other.” It places workers in a place of differing emphasis from the average citizen, and this can turn into violence against the citizen as we have seen so often.
The other method of change is by doing the difficult work of rebuilding public safety culture. Nathan’s words are critical: “Assault isn’t part of the job.” We do not have to accept it as a matter of course, not because we are somehow different or better than citizens and deserve more protection, but because every citizen deserves protection, public safety servants among them. [Post Script: the type of assault referred to here is not the kind that is the result of medical conditions; those must be handled with more review and wisdom than simple/aggravated assault /battery]