Responding to Victims of Domestic Abuse

Why doesn ;t she leave? ;
One of the biggest fears expressed by female victims of a violent partner is that nobody will believe what she says.

This section talks about female victims of male partners, which is still the most common scenario that comes to light, but the added difficulty many men feel in reporting violence should be recognised. Men may be physically bigger or stronger than the person abusing them, and yet feel powerless to defend themselves. This heightens the sense of humiliation, and unwillingness to tell.

The perpetrator may be very plausible, publicly above reproach. The fear is exacerbated by society ;s general ignorance about the mental manipulation and control that can be exerted, leaving the victim isolated and totally at the perpetrator ;s mercy. The often expressed view that if the situation was that bad, any sensible person would have reported the crime to the police and left the relationship, misses the point.
Female victims of domestic abuse have typically given the following reasons for not leaving:

  • Love of the partner, which can remain genuine and enduring in spite of horrific abuse (often linked to lack of self-esteem -( nobody else will ever love me ;)
  • Fear of reprisals - ( wherever you go, I ;ll track you down ;)
  • Promises from the perpetrator - (I ;ll never do it again ;?I really mean it this time ;)
  • Worries about the children - ( they love him? he ;s a good dad?it ;s not fair to uproot them ;)
  • Financial dependence - all assets and access to money may be in the perpetrator ;s control
  • Fear of being blamed by, or cast adrift from, family and friends and social networks
  • Cultural and/or religious factors: fear of being shunned by the community- ( I should have tried harder? prayed more? taken vows more seriously ;)
  • Guilt or low self-esteem - ( It ;s my fault. I provoke him ;)

If children are involved in a household where you suspect domestic violence, or if the abused adult has recognisable vulnerabilities eg mental health issues, physical or learning disability, you must contact Social Care or the police, depending on the urgency and seriousness of the perceived risk. However, if the adult is capable of protecting him/herself but for some reason has chosen not to, the most helpful strategy is to support the victim, over time if necessary, to make the decision for him/herself.

If you are worried that someone might be suffering domestic violence at home, don ;t be afraid to ask a direct question. ( Is something happening at home that is distressing you? Are you afraid of what will happen when you go home tonight? ;) Be willing to take seriously whatever you hear, even if it sounds implausible. Keep what you are told confidential, unless children or vulnerable adults are involved. Support the victim in making an exit plan (see below) that can be put into operation if they ever choose to leave the relationship. Exerting pressure to operate the plan immediately is counter-productive The victim has to be ready, and this is not something that can be rushed.

Domestic abuse has, at its core, an abuse of trust and a powerful source of control. So it is important to try and ensure that the victim starts to take back that control, and make his/her own decisions. Listen to what the victim has to say. Make suggestions if you feel they are helpful, but do not exert pressure to have them taken up. If there is a request for help, act on it immediately; offer to support the victim in going to the police, or to report it on his/her behalf, if you feel you can do this. Be prepared for the victim to change his/her mind and wish to withdraw any allegations made. There is provision in the legislation for the police to proceed to charge and prosecution if they feel it is necessary, even if the victim has retracted his/her statement and has returned to the home. This can be very distressing for the victim. Typically, a victim may take 5 to 7 years before they are capable of making a full and final break, so a retraction should not lessen your willingness to believe what has happened, or your support. It should rather be seen as a step along the way. Date the log you have made (including the year) and store it securely in case it is needed in court proceedings at a future date.

Do not seek to mediate between a violent offender and those involved with him/her. Your safety is important, too, and in any case such attempts can often make matters worse. Also, if both parties to a violent relationship are seeking pastoral help and counselling, don ;t take on the job of supporting both of them. Assign a different person to each partner.
Record what has happened, and/or what you have been told, as accurately and factually as you can. Include full names, addresses and ages, if you have them, of all the people involved.

For further information and advice contact:

Women ;s Aid and Refuge National Helpline (24 hr) 0808 2000 247

This number is free from landlines, but if a mobile is used there will be a charge which may appear on an itemised bill.