People who experience or inflict violence face a range of social responses. Social responses are powerful. They have the ability to make mothers feel ashamed, silenced or validated, while fathers may feel excused or accountable.
Every interaction you have with the family is a social response. This is particularly so when you begin the process of assessing risk. If you act as a partner to mothers and children and hold fathers accountable for their violence—with empathy and respect—you create a model for how families could make sense of the violence.
As part of a risk assessment, you often talk with people about experiences that cause them pain and suffering. It is critical that you structure safety into these conversations. You need to:
Give them control and choices about:
- where and when to have the conversation
- who else is there
- how fast or slow the conversation goes.
Acknowledge your power and privilege in your professional role and let them know you are going to be mindful of this. Let them know that you are open to them telling you if they feel like you are using your power in an unfair way.
Inform them they can say ‘no’ to any of your questions and ask how they would like you to respond if they say they cannot talk about a particular issue or answer a question. If this is information you require for the risk assessment, explain why you are asking the question, consider different ways to share the most important details, and negotiate a way to take the process forward.
Be honest about confidentiality and what may be done with the information they provide. If you are speaking with the woman or child, let them know you will not share information without their permission with the father who uses violence.
Talk with them about what might happen after your conversation:
- What might the repercussions be?
- How will they care for themselves?
- Who else might help care for them?
- How can you help?
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