Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Domestic violence - The harsh reality

Hi all

As you may know I volunteer regularly at Victim Support, a national charity which supports victims of crime. As part of my role, I have decided to specialise in helping victims of domestic violence (DV) and I've just finished this week the 4 day training needed for this area. I thought I'd share with you some of my main takeaways from the training for this month's blog.

Firstly.....The scary stats
  • One in 4 women and one in 6 men will experience DV at some point in their life.
  • DV represents an annual cost to the UK economy of £5.5 billion.
  • Almost one third of DV cases start at pregnancy.
  • Every minute the police receive a call for help relating to DV.
  • Women on average will suffer 35 separate instances of abuse from their partner before they report the violence to the police.

The impact on children

Children are often caught in the crossfire when it comes to DV. The impact on the children is massive and can include the following:
  • anger towards the abusive parent for their actions
  • anger towards the abused parent for letting it happen
  • guilt and self-blame that they cant stop the abuse
  • development of poor role modelling, thinking that abuse is an acceptable part of life
  • unprocessed anger can result in violent outbursts outside of the home
  • lack of sleep, suffering from nightmares and possible bed wetting from witnessing the abuse
  • And most of all, they too may become victims of the violence.
A moving (but harrowing) documentary about Victim Support's team who deal with families bereaved by homicide includes the tragic situation of a mother of 4 children being killed by their father after suffering years of DV. Here's the link to the programme (called  The Murder Workers), I definitely recommend it but warn you that it will stay with you for quite a while.

The toxic trio

Experts in this area describe a "toxic trio" which when present, causes the possibility of DV to dramatically rise. This trio is made up of substance or alcohol abuse, mental health issues and financial worries. Given the current economic recession it is no surprise that the National Centre for Domestic Violence has seen a 19% increase in cases in last 3 years.

The harsh reality

One of the key learning points for me in my training is that we can't assume that all victims want to leave their abusive partner. We, as supporters, have to approach clients with absolute empathy and non judgemental ways of thinking. We have to respect the victim's decision regardless of our own convictions. Its very easy for us to say "why don't you just leave" but this is far easier said than done and is not the type of support which will help a victim. For me this will represent a great test as a trainee therapist. I will have to park the "inner rescuer" within me and help support my clients on a case by case basis. After all no one knows exactly what goes on in a relationship apart from the two people in it. A good example in the media is the situation involving Rihanna and Chris Brown, where several years after DV, the couple reunited, much to the disbelief of some commentators.
Rihanna after the DV

The reasons why victims of DV stay with their abusive partners are numerous and varied. One fact which cannot be ignored is that victims are most at risk of harm (including being killed) when they try to leave their abusive partner. I also find the following TED talk by the wonderful Leslie Morgan Steiner about why victims of DV stay with their abusers truly inspiring. 

Vicarious trauma

Another key learning from the training, and one which can apply to all therapeutic situations, is as a supporter of people experiencing trauma, is TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Supervision is absolutely vital when starting down this career path. Client work needs to be left at the office and not taken home. 

Vicarious Trauma is the term used to describe the impact on a supporter's well being who deals with trauma on a regular basis. The Headington Institute defines Vicarious Trauma as "the process of change that happens because you care about other people who have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to help them. Over time this process can lead to change in your psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being." The Headington Institute advocates three themes of Awareness, Balance and Connection to help alleviate Vicarious Trauma. So I've decided to develop a few key objectives of my own, these being:
  • Maintain a good work/life balance
  • Leave the client material at the office (mentally as well as practically)
  • Supervision, supervision, supervision!
  • Know and observe my limits

One thing which is for sure is that with 2 women dying every week as a result of DV, more support is needed for these victims and I hope my very small contribution will make a difference in a someway.

Till next month

Take care