Working with victims of domestic violence

The term domestic violence includes not only physical violence, but also psychological abuse, such as oppression, control, belittling, threats, and isolation from friends and relatives. All this lowers the self-esteem of the victim and can make him or her believe that he or she is to blame for the violence. Low self-esteem consumes all of the victim's mental energy, making it difficult for him or her to seek help or take other action. 

Who can become a victim of domestic violence?

Anyone can become a victim of domestic abuse, and there are victims from all strata of society. Whether one can become a victim or not does not depend on one's educational background or economic and social position.

How does domestic violence begin and how does it develop?

Often domestic violence begins with small wishes and requests that eventually limit the freedom of the victim. Later the demands turn into psychological violence, after which increasing levels of physical violence is used to control the victim.

Why is it hard for the victim to abandon a violent relationship?

Violence is not always present, and it develops in stages. First there is increasing tension, then there is violence, and finally the culprit is repentant and apologizes, and the same course of events is repeated in cycles. In times of peace, the victim may believe that the culprit is changing. The victim may also fear that there will be more violence if he or she tries to leave, and that the children will be taken over by the violent parent in case of divorce. In addition, the victim may be financially dependent on the culprit. To abandon a violent relationship is a difficult and slow process, particularly if the victim's self-esteem and ability to make decisions has been destroyed by the violence.

When does the victim abandon the violent person?

A certain even or matter can form a turning-point for the victim. The turning-point can be an unusually severe act of violence or sudden concern for the safety of the children. The victim realizes that something has to be done. For those investigating the matter it is important to understand that abandoning the violent person can make the victim feel loss and sorrow even though there has been violence in the relation.

After leaving the violent person

Even after the immediate danger is over, the presence of the culprit may cause the victim uneasiness. This usually happens when the victim has to face the culprit while discussing how to share the couple's property and who will take care of the children. 

 

Auli Ojuri, researcher and developer, D.Soc.Sc., The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters

Sari Laaksonen, Development Manager, The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters

References

- The “Ota väkivalta puheeksi” (“Start talking about violence”) Memorandum (Publications of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2008:9)

- ”Onko joku tuntemasi nainen parisuhdeväkivallan kohteena?” (“Has a woman you know been subjected to violence in her relationship?”), guide published by the Women's Line in Finland

 

 

Concerning victims of violence in general, please read the guidelines in the “Working with traumatized victims” section.

Tips for the police

1. Be aware of the fact that the situation you encounter and influence may be the first stage in a process of releasing the victim from his or her difficult situation. The moment you see may be of great consequence for the victim!

2. Make it possible for the victim to speak to you privately without anyone else present. Be frank when asking about the violence, but do not forget to be friendly.

3. Give the victim several opportunities to talk about what has happened, do not rush! Ask questions about the situation and matters concerning the safety of the victim in several different ways.

4. Take whatever the victim says seriously. Do not blame him or her for letting the crime take place!

5. Remember to find the children of the family. They may be hiding or may have fled from the house. If necessary, please contact the child protection authority or a social worker (Child Protection Law 25. §).

6. Consider the victim's and the family's immediate need for protection. Determine whether they can stay at home or return there. If necessary, the family can stay in a shelter.

7. In case of physical or sexual abuse, the victim has to see a doctor as soon as possible.

8. Tell the victim how to report a crime and how to file a restraining order.

9. Get familiar with the services offered in your district. Tell the victim where he or she can get help with preventing future violence.

In court

1. Please note that the victim may need a support person.

2. Always think about the children when making decisions concerning a family.

3. Do not let the handling of the case in court create safety risks or increase uneasiness.

4. The victim may want the culprit to be removed from the room while the victim is being heard. Always let the victim make this decision!

5. Please note that the legal process may play a big role in putting an end to the violence. If the legal process is long, solving the problem may become even more difficult. A prolonged legal process may even make it possible for psychological violence to continue.