Information for professionals
Regardless of your profession, working with people will mean it is likely you will come into contact with individuals who are affected by domestic abuse. This may result in a disclosure being made to you.
It is important to know what signs might indicate domestic abuse, its impact, and how to respond and get people to the support they need.
Aura intend to work in partnership with many organisations and communities of interest to reduce risks of Gender Based Violence and improve safety so please do contact us to discuss your concerns at any time.
Know the signs
The most important thing to remember is that domestic abuse is more than physical violence and victims might never have physical injuries. Instead, they might appear fearful, anxious, or depressed; they may be displaying symptoms of trauma such as hyper-arousal (‘jumpiness’); they may be constantly checking their phone or state that there are certain things they’re ‘not allowed to do’, places they are not allowed to go or people they are not allowed to see; they may be isolated from friends and family or have no support network. Children might display sudden behaviour changes such as sudden withdrawal or acting out violently and behaving in a very challenging way.
Domestic abuse affects each person differently, having both physical and psychological impacts. The abuse can be emotional, sexual, psychological, physical or financial, or a combination of each of these things.
Coercive control is the most common form of abusive behaviour with examples including; isolating the victim from family/friends, intercepting messages or phone calls, controlling what they do and when, cancelling medical appointments and so on. For people on the periphery of a relationship, coercive control can be difficult to identify as the actions of the perpetrator are usually subtle and may be normalised by the victim. Controlling and coercive behaviour is now criminalised in Scotland, with legislation in force as of 1st April 2019. It is a course of conduct offence, where ongoing harmful and abusive actions in a relationship are identified as a pattern of behaviour over time and the sole purpose is to restrict one’s liberty.
It is often an aggregate of related signs of domestic abuse that highlights a person is at risk therefore an individual may present to you in myriad of different ways. Women in particular can present as being anxious, hyper-vigilant or injured, however they can equally present as being very together and exhibit no outward signs of what is occurring at home or in their relationship.
The impact of Covid-19
In Scotland there were 30,718 charges reported in 2019-20 which were identified as being related to domestic abuse. This is 5.7 percent higher than the number reported in 2018-19. However, Covid 19 has also seen a stark rise in domestic abuse related incidents. In North Lanarkshire, the number recorded by Police Scotland rose by 12.5 per cent between April and September 2020 compared to those recorded the year prior. Covid-19 is not the cause of domestic abuse – domestic abuse is an abuser’s choice, always – however it is important to highlight that lockdown and associated measures have given abusers additional tools to control and isolate individuals and the pandemic has made it more difficult for those experiencing abuse to reach out to family, friends, or services for support.
How to respond to a disclosure
Following disclosure, it is important as a professional that you:
- Validate their experience.
- Show empathy and understanding.
- Allow them to talk about their experience in confidence.
- Offer them support within your organisation’s remit and discuss the possibility of referring them on to a specialist agency for support.
Remember the limitations of your role and competence. While we want every worker to be trained on domestic violence and be competent in safety planning, we do not want individuals to take on a role that should be filled by those professionally trained to help. Aura are happy to offer consultations to colleagues around domestic abuse cases that may be more complex and require a multi-agency approach to reduce service generated risks. We are more than happy to accept referrals or offer advice in the next steps to ensure the individuals immediate safety. It is vital that a holistic assessment is undertaken as well as the SafeLives Dash checklist (RIC). However if you do not have any formal training in the DASH RIC then please contact a local domestic abuse partner agency who can provide specialist advice or offer consultation.
Identifying with the experiences of others
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their social, ethnicity, educational, or financial status. Workers are not precluded. As a professional it is important that we are congruent and self-reflective in our practice which can sometimes mean being emotionally triggered by others’ trauma. If you feel that you are identifying with someone else's experience it is important, and best practice, to acknowledge this to yourself and seek some support where appropriate. Aura understands the impact this can have on a worker. You can self-refer and we will endeavour to offer you support in the most beneficial and confidential way.
Supporting people with experiences of psychological trauma can have an adverse effect on a person. This is known as vicarious trauma. Typical signs include burnout, negativity, cynicism, absenteeism, and a range of debilitating psychological effects. While these are normal responses to working with traumatised people, they are preventable. Strategies for reducing risk of vicarious trauma include:
- Increasing your self-observation - recognise and note your signs of stress and burnout.
- Take care of yourself emotionally - engage in relaxing and self-soothing activities, nurture self-care.
- Look after your physical and mental wellbeing.
- Access additional support and supervision.