We must stop blaming women for being the victims of domestic abuse
Before I became a Social Worker I genuinely believed that domestic abuse was becoming a thing of the past.
In 21st Century Britain, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to hurt their own partners or family members.
We have moved on from such things, I told myself.
People are more enlightened and civilised these days, I reasoned.
But, like many of the horrible things that happen in this world, practising Social Work gave me a glimpse into aspects of life that had blissfully passed me by before I qualified.
This is the reality I soon began to face:
- Two women a week are killed by their partner or ex in England and Wales
- 8% of all crime in England and Wales is related to domestic abuse
- Police receive a domestic abuse emergency call every 30 seconds
- 14% of all Court prosecutions relate to domestic abuse
- 84% of victims are female and 16% are male
*Statistics from Women’s Aid
As I became more experienced as a Social Worker, beginning to take on increasingly complex cases, I began to see how domestic abuse ran like a seam through the heart of my safeguarding role.
It seemed as if the majority of cases that we sadly had to take legal action on contained elements of domestic abuse
Alongside picking up on just how scarily common domestic abuse remains in this day and age, I also began to see a worrying pattern developing where women often appeared to carry the burden for children being exposed to domestic abuse.
It was most often the mother who was the focus of the referrals to Children’s Services.
It was most often the mother who would attend meetings and conferences.
It was most often the mother who was asked to carry the burden of the Child Protection plans that were put in place in an effort to address risk.
Conversely, I have seen far too many assessments where the father of the children has been either completely ignored or marginalised in the process.
In the most dangerous situations, I began to see how women often felt like they were double victims- first at the hands of their abusive partner and the second time around at the hands of a Child Protection system that solely laid the blame on them for ‘failing to protect’
At first I used to wonder why on earth anyone would try to hide domestic abuse from Social Workers, knowing just how bad this looks on paper. But then I began to understand the fear that reporting domestic abuse could lead Social Workers using it as evidence to remove a child.
Add to this the fact that many families have frequent changes of Social Workers, some have been let down by professionals before and all are bombarded with a media image of repeated safeguarding failures… well, it suddenly becomes a lot clearer why attempting to hide the true extent of your suffering seems like the safer option.
I embrace the need for the focus of Child Protection Social Work to be on the child, but we must balance this with doing more for their mothers too
Many reviews into tragedies where children have died at the hands of their parents have involved Social Workers focusing on the parents’ issues at the expense of the children; resulting in a situation where the child’s voice was unheard.
However, we cannot let this focus on the child distract us from the fact that children aren’t islands, but are part of a family unit. In this sense, we must do more to support women who are the victims of domestic violence and avoid the ‘victim blaming’ that can be overtly and covertly seen in Social Work assessments.
And it all comes back to early intervention again.
More must be done to educate young people in school about the impact of domestic abuse.
We need to speed up referrals to domestic violence awareness programmes.
Advocacy services need to be in place, so women have a better chance of understanding the Child Protection system and what Social Workers expect of them.
Men need to be involved in the process far more than they are and more must be done to ensure that they take responsibility for their actions.
Social Work teams should be able to refer to in-house domestic abuse perpetrators programmes and have domestic abuse champions within their teams, instead of having to often wait months for courses to start.
Quite simply, we must stop placing both the burden of future change and the blame for past actions on women for allowing themselves to be the victims of abuse.