With more than 25 years' worth of experience working with social workers, Women's Aid CEO Polly Neate knows they can be relied upon to make every effort to put those they support at the heart of social work practice.
That’s why the Chief Social Worker for Adults Lyn Romeo decided this issue was important enough to work with Women’s Aid and Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA) to develop a set of tools to help social workers support vulnerable adults who are experiencing controlling and coercive behaviour.
A proper understanding of controlling or coercive behaviour can’t be optional for social workers. At Women’s Aid, we know that most of the problems domestic abuse survivors experience at the hands of professionals stem from a lack of understanding, yet it’s a real struggle to get any professionals to admit they need help in developing the right awareness and skills to work with situations of coercive control.
It’s not a simple matter either; using controlling or coercive behaviour is a deliberate act which reduces an individual’s space for action, self-worth and self-determination. It creates an environment in which further abuse can be perpetrated.
It is not a momentary loss of temper or an inability to control anger or frustration. In fact, most perpetrators control themselves all too well. These individuals can be highly manipulative. I have seen many different professionals taken in by controlling perpetrators, often to the extent of blaming the victim. That is why identifying coercion and control and knowing what to do require real understanding and skill.
Acquiring the knowledge and skills to do this empowers social workers to respond more effectively and in confidence that they are promoting – not jeopardising – the service user’s safety.
Evidence shows that disabled women are more than twice as likely as non-disabled women to experience domestic abuse.
We are also working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to roll out training to back up the materials, and to equip practitioners to support their colleagues and improve practice across their agencies.
The Femicide Census, compiled by Women’s Aid and Karen Ingala Smith, shows that older women are particularly vulnerable too: they are over-represented among the women killed by a current or former intimate partner, yet they are under-represented among women who seek support for domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is always severely damaging, frequently extremely dangerous and too often fatal. Controlling or coercive behaviour is the driving force behind domestic abuse. But the criminalisation of coercive control, which Women’s Aid campaigned for, and the increase in public awareness that has accompanied it, partly generated by our work with Radio 4’s The Archers, present a significant opportunity.
This project is one important way of making sure we grasp that opportunity.