According to research results, and prior to the occurrence of a serious physical assault, domestic violence victims have presented various signals to those institutions (including the social services) they have dealt with many times. As social service providers it is very important to be aware of the various indirect signs of violence and to take it seriously. The goal of this section input is to provide some information on how to indentify clients who have been victim of domestic violence and on how to support them appropriately.
Domestic violence causes physical injuries as well as mental health problems, fear, distress and loss of self-confidence. It causes feeling of lack of control over one’s body, shame and hopelessness. Victims often leave and return several times before permanently separating from the abuser (Okun, 1986). Often women in abusive relationships report that their partner’s controlling behaviour is more distressing than the physical violence (Bancroft, 2002, Stark, 2007). Domestic violence victims often need help and support for economic security, safe housing as well as options for counselling and therapy, as well as guaranteed safety of children.
Bancroft, L. (2002). Why does he do that? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. New York, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Okun, L. (1986). Woman abuse: Facts replacing myths. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
IMPRODOVA: What happens when you contact a victim protection shelter?
Case Study: How social services can support investigations of domestic violence
A woman called the police, because her husband has beaten her up. The police – according to her injuries –initiated a criminal procedure of light physical battery. A few hours later, after she had gone to a secret shelter, her physical condition deteriorates. A social worker talks with the victim about the now visible severity of injuries. With the agreement of the victim, the director of the shelter calls the ambulance and takes photos of the injuries and send them to the police, because he assumed that based on the injuries the crime is more severe than a light battery. As the victim is willed to share the information with the police, he is legally allowed to do so. The court – based on the medical report, secured medical evidence, the photos sent by the shelter – re-qualified the case into a homicide attempt. Sometimes proactive action by the social services is indispensable when dealing with domestic violence cases. They are in close contact with the victim and therefore have important information that could support the investigation. They can help the authorities not only in documenting the injuries in a timely manner, but also by sharing information about the case that the victims are unlikely to have passed on to the police or other frontline responders. Socials workers are an important part of interorganizational help networks.
Secret shelters receive domestic violence clients through referrals from call centres or crisis ambulances.
(1) Which additional assistance can be provided to the woman by the social sector?
(2) What information is important to provide to the young woman so that she can assess her situation in the best possible way?
(3) Where do you see the greatest challenges for the victim in the coming weeks and how would you meet them?
(4) How would you react if the woman tells you during the conversation that she would like to return to her husband?
The answers to thoses tasks can be found in the following section.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is an abuse of power within a domestic relationship, between relatives or ex-partners. It involves one person dominating or controlling another, causing intimidation or fear, or both. Domestic violence is often experienced as a pattern of abuse that escalates over time.
It is not necessarily physical and can include:
- sexual abuse
- emotional or psychological abuse
- verbal abuse
- threatening with violence
- controlling and regulating victim’s everyday behaviour
- negligence (especially for child or elderly abuse)
- spiritual abuse
- including forcing someone to attend religious activities, stopping the person from taking part in their religious or cultural practice, misusing spiritual or religious beliefs and practices to justify abuse and violence
- stalking and intimidation, including using technology
- social and geographic isolation
- financial abuse
- cruelty to pets
- damage to property
Forms of violence
Physical violence is any use of physical force or threat by use of physical force which compels the victim to do or to abandon or to suffer or restrict or move her/him or to cause her/him pain, fear or humiliation, whether personal injury has occurred.
Psychological violence is the conduct and dissemination of information by which the perpetrator of violence in the victim causes fear, humiliation, feelings of inferiority, danger and other psychological distress, even when committed using information and communication technology.
Sexual violence is the conduct of sexual content that the victim does not consent to, is coerced into, or because of their level of development, does not understand their meaning, the threat of sexual violence, and the public disclosure of sexual content about the victim.
Verbal Violence is part of psychological violence. Everything said by the perpetrator to or about the victim in order to harm him or her.
Economic violence is the unjustified control or restriction of a victim in disposing of income or property with which the victim independently disposes or manages or unjustifiably restricting the disposition or management of joint property of family members, unjustified failure to fulfil financial or property obligations to a family member or unjustified shifting financial or property liabilities to a family member.
Neglect is a form of violence where the perpetrator abandons the due care of the victim, which is needed due to illness, disability, age, developmental or other personal circumstances.
Stalking is a wilful repeated unwanted contact, pursuit, physical intrusion, observation, restraint in places where the victim moves or other form of unwanted intrusion into the victim’s life.
How to understand Domestic violence
It is important that social services’ professionals have a profound knowledge about the social and economic background of the social areas (social mapping), and can identify those areas in which the prevalence of domestic violence is higher than the average of the city or region. The most prevalent social areas on domestic violence are not necessarily socially disadvantaged areas.
The basic assumptions to develop predictive models of domestic violence incidence are: Willingness to multidisciplinary teamwork; opportunities to explore big data; new data collection/gathering methodologies (both qualitative and quantitative); capacity to share information and the willingness to develop preventive awareness approaches in target areas.
Cautionary signs of violence that might refer to violence in a family
- is restless, distracted, confused
- forgets or postpones appointments
- is isolated, does not have a wide social network
- is permanently tired or depressed
- is angry, impatient
- is consuming more drugs (alcohol, drug, pills) than previously,
- reports symptoms that can be related to PTSD (e.g.: insomnia, pain, nightmares)
How to talk to your client about domestic violence
In any situation that you suspect underlying psychosocial problems you can ask indirectly or directly about domestic violence. If you have concerns that your client is experiencing domestic violence, you should ask to speak with them alone, separate from their partner or any other family members. At the beginning of a situation that makes you suspicious, you can always ask broad questions about whether your client’s relationships are affecting their health and wellbeing. Listen to them non-judgmental and validate them.
- ‘How are things at home?’
- ‘How are you and your partner (or other family members) getting on?’
- ‘Is anything else happening which might be affecting your health?’
It is important to realize that some victims who have been abused want to be asked about domestic violence, give hints and are more likely to disclose if they are being asked in a safe environment. If appropriate, you can ask direct questions about any violence.
- ‘Are there ever times when you are frightened of your partner (or other family members)?’
- ‘Are you concerned about your safety or the safety of your children?’
- ‘Does the way your partner (or other family members) treats you make you feel unhappy or depressed?’
- ‘Has your partner ever (or other family members) verbally intimidated or hurt you?`
- ‘Has your partner (or other family members) ever physically threatened or hurt you?’
- ‘Has your partner (or other family members) forced you to have sex when you didn’t want it?’
- ‘Violence is very common in the home. I ask a lot of my clients about abuse because no one should have to live in fear of their partners.’
If you see specific clinical symptoms and are sure about your suspicion, you can ask specific questions about these (e.g. bruising). These could include:
- ‘You seem very anxious and nervous. Is everything alright at home?’
- ‘When I see injuries like this, I wonder if someone could have hurt you?’
- ‘Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that might be contributing to this condition?’
Responding to a disclosure
Your immediate response and attitude when your client discloses domestic violence can make a difference. Victims require an initial response to disclosure, where they are listened to, validated and their own and their children’s safety is assessed. They also need to be assisted on a pathway to safety.
- believe the client, do not question the narrative
- do not give direct advise or orders what to do
- do not make decisions instead of your client, but always with her or him
- do not try to mediate between the parties or solve the situation in any other ways
- encourage the victim and raise him or her a perspective beyond the present conditions
Being properly listened to can be an empowering experience for a victim who has been abused. The key aspect of proper listening is non-judgmental attitude.
‘That must have been frightening for you.’
Validate the decision to disclose
‘I understand it could be very difficult for you to talk about this.’
Emphasize the unacceptability of violence
‘Violence is unacceptable. You do not deserve to be treated this way.’
Be clear that the victim is not to blame
Avoid suggesting that your client is responsible for the violence or that they are able to control the violence by changing their behaviour.
Do not ask questions that might raise victims’ stress and sense of powerlessness
- ‘Why don’t you leave?’
- ‘What could you have done to avoid this situation?’
- ‘Why did he/she hit you?’