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ethics of family work in a world with domestic violence

Domestic Violence is a common enough occurrence it should be planned for in all family sessions. To not is a serious ethical lapse on the part of the practitioner.

A routine inquiry about domestic violence should be done with everyone who has ever been in a relationship with a man. Routine inquiries can be done with potential perpetrators or survivors but the results of inquiries with perpetrators are suspect. Approaching it obliquely can often yield a more accurate response. “Do you two ever fight?” “What does that look like?” “Does it ever get violent?” Questions should be made without judgment in a matter of fact manner. We also go over arrest information and assault charges can be a good lead in.

Domestic violence is rooted in power and control and there is a strong correlation with traditional gender roles. Men and women believe these myths.

Two Fundamental Principles

  1. Victim Safety
  2. Personal Accountability

DV perpetrators do not engage in domestic violence at any higher rates then men who don’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Acts of abuse while intoxicated can be more severe but our actions are governed by our attitudes and beliefs whether we are intoxicated or not. Sobering up in and of itself will not correct issues of domestic violence though the level of violence may decrease power and control will still hold sway until it is conscientiously dealt with over time.

Domestic Violence is Purposeful and Instrumental, meaning its done on purpose and its done for a reason. Those reasons are rooted in male privilege, are often invisible to those who receive them and are difficult to eradicate.

Counselors must help client perpetrators take responsibility for their actions. Facilitate pledges to stay nonviolent. Safety plan trigger situations. Learn basic skills like time outs/cool downs. Be able to be honest about what is occurring.

Domestic Violence is difficult to address in individual sessions and best practice is to refer to a batterer intervention program of at least 6 months. Less intensive interventions should only be instigated when that is not possible.

A nice basic primer is “Why Does He Do That: A Guide to Angry and Controlling Men”

Higher rates of substance abuse are found in domestic violence survivors. The rights of survivors to make choices about continuing or not continuing cannot be abrogated without the clinician putting themselves in the place of the abuser. Survivors know best on how to continue to survive and leaving can precipitate an act of violence. No one wants to be abused that is a myth. Efforts are best focused on validating the survivors feelings, normalizing their experience, safety planning, and referral to specialized services. Co-dependency can be victim blaming and is never appropriate in issues surrounding domestic violence.

The batterer is solely responsible for the violence and for ending the violence. Domestic violence should never be broached by the counselor in a couples session. Couples counseling is not appropriate and potentially dangerous and should be studiously avoided in cases of domestic violence and this includes family conferences.

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