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Listening to survivors: From the Personal to the Professional

Listening to survivors lecture video
In this presentation, we’re going to look a wee bit more at what professionals are doing to support people who are affected by violence against women. I’ve called this presentation From the Personal to the Professional, which is really stealing something from the famous movement of the ’70s, which talked about the personal is political. So in this session, we’ll be looking at what we’ve learned from survivors’ and victims’ experiences of violence against women and how that’s beginning to change the way society responds to violence against women. And also, we’ll begin to look at how some of these changes are informing these professional responses. It’s really important to look at the wider picture here. And I’d like to quote Karl Marx.
And he talks about how it’s important that philosophers interpret the world. But it’s important for us that we try to change it. And the concepts that are going to be discussed today, that I’m going to cover, are looking at how we’re learning, and how that learning is bringing about action, and how that is bringing about change in something which we often described as praxis. So these are acts which shape and change the world. And they’re actions that are based on reflections and things that we found that worked and didn’t work. But there also is, underlying all of it, a commitment to well-being and the search for truth and respect for others.
These are actions of people who are free and who are able to act for themselves. So praxis is a very creative process. And it’s something that’s very much at the heart of a lot of the people who have been working to challenge violence against women. So I’d like to return to a concept that we’ve looked at before, and to look at the ecological framework for violence against women, but to look at how it’s helpful to us to look at it in action.
It Helps us to understand why violence against women happens, its impact on individuals, how it can help us to assess the risk from perpetrators, and to help us inform our interventions, and how society can begin to change to address these issues. Some of the key features of violence against women are really important to remember. We’ve talking about survivors’ experience of violence against women. But it’s important to recognise that people experience violence against women in a multidimensional way. It affects their physical body. It affects their emotional health. It can affect their sexual health. It affects them on every dimension of their being. And it’s very dangerous to disclose it to others.
And it’s one of the most under-reported and undisclosed range of crimes that we know about. Also, because of that multidimensional nature, it requires a multidisciplinary approach. So to be able to respond to it, it’s important that you have many different disciplines, professions, and research, and practise, and individuals that can come to that with their own skills, knowledge, and experience. And it requires everybody to begin to look at how to respond to those that are affected. And that means that we must all work together. So people who are involved in the field, we’re looking at ways of bringing them all together, because it’s not the responsibility of one particular agency to begin to solve the issues affecting any individual survivor.
And if we take a look at some of the issues that affect someone in addition to the violence that they’re experiencing, there are a whole range of things that can affect them. It can affect them through their housing. They may have to leave their homes. They may be affected by substance misuse to actually help them cope with what they’re dealing with. There may be legal issues. There may be mental and physical health issues. There are many, many different forms of violence against women. And it affects people, as I’ve said, on many different levels. And the whole social aspects of this can be very profound. And it can impact people very severely.
So it’s very important that we bear this in mind. And the complexity of the impact, which you have been looking at, has very social implications as well. And there are also social risks that are risks for women experiencing abuse from different perpetrators. But it’s also very important to recognise that within our ecological framework, there are also institutional risks and cultural risks as well, which have to be taken into account and balanced when we’re looking at how to intervene. One of the most famous projects, particularly looking at domestic violence in the United States, in Minnesota, was the Duluth Project.
They were projects set up to intervene, to look at the impact of domestic violence perpetrators and to work with them to change their behaviour. But they also worked with their partners and ex-partners as well. And some of the key lessons that they described for domestic violence perpetrators also applies to perpetrators for all forms of violence against women, that they’re very, very dangerous, and that women and children are in real danger from what they do and from the harms that they commit. Preventing violence against women and children demands a different way of public agencies working together. It demands them to look at how they react to that violence, and how they actually respond to the perpetrator and the victims.
Within each agency, it’s important to make the links between what each individual does, because the accumulation of what people do together can make all the difference to the person who’s affected. And if we, again, revisit some of the concepts that we looked at before in relation to an ecological model, we can look at how it can help us look at the various risk factors in relation to violence against women.
There’s no one single cause of these forms of violence against women. And what we tend to talk more about in the field is risk factors. And there can be risk factors across all of the social ecology. So whether it’s individual risk factors, family risk factors, community risk factors, or in the wider culture, which you’ve been learning about, these can all impact on an individual’s behaviour. Violence against women affects individuals. It can be perpetrated by individuals and by groups and also, in some cases, by countries. But it’s important to be able to look and balance all the risk factors that are coming into play. So doing that at a community level is how you respond to that.
And there are some very good models of how you respond to violence against women. And an important one is the advocacy model. The advocacy model helps us to work alongside victims. It tries to equalise the power relationships and to create and support and service mechanisms which allow them to get some of the power that they may have lost in the abusive situation that they found themselves in, or in the relationships that they were in. So individual advocacy works with individual people who are surviving, or who have been victims of various forms of violence against women. But structural advocacy is also very important. And that’s very much linked to changing society and changing attitudes.
And that’s about where all the issues that have affected people who have been affected by violence against women can be brought together and be brought to bear on politicians and people who run agencies, across community, and across society. And that structural advocacy is where praxis can happen, reflecting on good practise, and helping to show these individual issues– there’s a commonality about them. There are many similarities across many different experiences that women have. And it’s important that we can take these forward to try and bring about change. And to revisit the Duluth Wheel, which you’ve seen before– this, again, was used very much to capture the experiences of women who experienced domestic violence.
But it has helped to inform the kind of practises that they have become famous for over the years. One of the other important aspects of looking at responses to people affected by violence against women is to look at the traumatic impact. And you’ll be exploring that in other parts of the course. This model of recovery from trauma, and particularly trauma that’s been brought about by people’s experience of violence against women, is that there are three stages. There’s the first stage. It’s really important that the person who’s been affected is safe. This will apply to any kind of trauma, whether it’s Type 1 trauma, a natural disaster, or an accident, or Type 2 trauma, which relates to violence against women.
The second stage is to allow the person to have time to recover, if they’re safe, and to perhaps introduce some therapeutic responses and perhaps some counselling, or some other method of helping them make sense of what’s happened to them. And stage three is about reconnecting them with their community. Experiences of violence against women can isolate people quite profoundly. And one of the main things that violence against women disrupts is it disrupts people’s ability to be in relationships which are healthy. So it’s important that advocates and people who work alongside women do so in a way that encourages them to begin to regain their confidence and step back into society.
So these are very clear principles of supporting the recovery of people who’ve been traumatised. They are also keys to the kind of services and responses that can be used. The Council of Europe in 2011 introduced the Istanbul Convention, which a number of countries are now ratifying. And they recommend a coordinated approach. They place responsibilities on states to actually bring together all of these agencies who have the responsibility to support people who are affected by it, to challenge the perpetrators, and to do that on every level of the social ecology.
So a coordinated approach to violence against women is challenging because it means that all different agencies, with very different value systems, perhaps, different ways of working, they all have find a way of negotiating a common understanding. And this is where the definitions have been developed by the United Nations, by the World Health Organisation, and others have helped us to define what we’re looking at so that people could then begin to negotiate how they understand in order that we can make a difference to people’s lives. And the goal of all this is to create a different social climate. And this is the change that we wish to bring about. And it’s not to promote certain courses of action.
That would depend on who’s working with the different individual victims or survivors. It’ll depend on the context. But it’s important that we look at bringing about change. We must recognise also that cultural attitudes are very Very slow to change and that these can challenge people. And the people who challenge social attitudes sometimes don’t have an easy time. So it might be worth thinking about some of those attitudes and how you’ve been challenged, if you have been challenged in the course of this course, and see what you think about some of the ideas that we’ve been presenting you with.
In this presentation, we will be exploring the way violence against women survivors’ experiences have helped develop our understanding and have helped to change the way society thinks about and responds to the issue.
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