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Practitioner advice: Talking to victims

The important thing is to listen, to hear what the person said, and to reassure them. It’s just important that people feel that they can talk about it more. And that is something, again, that we’ve found through the work that we’ve done, that it’s better to have the conversations than try and shy away from it really. I think it’s really difficult when people have disclosed domestic abuse, because often it feels like you’re opening a can of worms, and thinking I don’t know how to respond. I think it’s useful to familiarise yourself with - what are you going to say to ask the questions? And what are you gonna say to respond? And actually hear your own voice saying it.
I would advise the practitioner to try to speak to the woman on her own, and try to see if there’s a way to do that without raising any kind of suspicions that you’re trying to exclude the partner. It’s really difficult. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do, because you have to ask that woman if she can speak - if she’s willing to speak to you on her own - and you’ve got to respect her answer. And she might not feel confident or able to say yes, but you have to try to do that. I think you have to go back to your professional standards, and your codes of practice.
And for me as a social worker who works across social care and health care, you would have to go back to your ethical imperative, and we have a standards of conduct, performance and ethics, which would underpin the actions that you have to take. And you have to do what you can to try to establish that relationship with the woman and try to make her feel that she can talk to you. There’s a lot of resources out there that you could just give to people that would say, ‘Are you experiencing these things, x, y, and z? You could be in an abusive relationship.’
But it’s often unhelpful to do that if the person hasn’t even considered beforehand that that relationship might be an abusive relationship. I wouldn’t want to go into a conversation with someone, assuming that I know what the situation is, and that I’m trying to convince them. Although obviously, when you’ve got somebody in front of you who’s really - you’re really thinking, oh gosh, you just need to get out of this relationship - it’s difficult not to do that, because you want to help them. But at the same time, I don’t actually know anything about their relationship, because I’ve never seen them in that context, so I’ve only got what they’re saying to go on.
So it really is about a process of trying to explore that together, but trying to do that in an open way, rather than they have only got this one fixed perspective, which is coming from one particular place. So I might do that by just asking them a lot of questions about it, and asking them maybe about what family and friends have said, and what they think about that. But I might also use more specific CBT strategies, like using, well, a lot of open questions to try and help that person to think a bit more about what’s actually going on there.
A lot of summarising - ‘So, you’re telling me x, y and z, and how does that fit with what you said before about what was going on at home?’
And then helping people to maybe consider alternative perspectives on that, and there’d be different ways that we could get people to consider alternative perspectives. In the past, I’ve done a survey with someone, where we’ve come up with a set of questions about things that she wasn’t sure whether they were normal or not. Like, is it normal for your boyfriend to do this? And then we’ve sent that survey out anonymously to a large group of people, and collected responses back for her to look at, which is actually - that was a really powerful way of her thinking, oh hang on.
There seems to be a lot of people here who are saying this relationship seems like it might be abusive, I’m really concerned about you. And that was quite emotionally powerful for her.

In this video, our expert practitioners offer their advice on how to talk to someone that you suspect is experiencing DVA.

What do you think?

Do you have any experience of talking to victims? What advice would you share?
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Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence

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