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Talking to fathers

Talking to fathers who use violence

Use the following table to plan your conversation with a father who is using violence on his partner and children. Be respectful, while holding him responsible for his choice to act abusively. 

Practice considerations Conversation ideas

Engage him

  • Adopt an engagement style that is open and genuinely curious.
  • Model respect, and support the father’s ability to choose respectful behaviours.
  • Focus part of the discussion on fathering. If he is not the biological father, talk about his role as a co-parent.
  • Explore his ideas about fathering—are they positive or negative? If his role model is his father, this is a good opportunity to explore what the relationship was like.
  • Explore his feelings about the mother to try to understand his perspective on the relationship.
  • Clearly explain the reason why you want to talk to him.
  • Tell me more about …
  • I’m interested in …
  • What are your hopes and dreams for the children?
  • What would you like them to remember about you when they are older?
  • When do you think you are being the best father?
  • Where do you get your ideas about what it means to be a father from? Who is your role model?
  • What do you love about your partner?
  • What do you think is going well in your relationship? Is there anything you would like to change?
  • We are here because we are very worried about Sam and Jason. We are worried because we received a report that you hurt Sally. We need to talk to you about that.

Show genuine interest

  • Explore with him his own experiences of violence and adversity and how he has responded to them.
  • Ask about how he learned about relationships and gender roles.
  • I’m interested in whether there is anything happening in your life that you are finding difficult right now.
  • Have there been times where you’ve felt like you’ve been treated unfairly? How did you respond to this?
  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else’s violence? Can you tell me about that? What did you do? What did you think?
  • Who did you learn about relationships from? Can you tell me about that? What did you like about that? What didn’t you like?
  • Who do you think taught you about the roles of men and women? What did you learn? What do you think about that? Does this fit with what you think the roles of women and men should be?

Assess how safe a man is around his children

  • Most parents love their children and want good outcomes for them. Before exploring the impact of violence and abuse on children, it is important to understand what the father loves about his children.
  • Explore ideas about gender roles and stereotypes.
  • When asking about the violence, start with broad and general questions before asking him to tell you more specifically about his behaviour.
  • Assist him to develop insight into the impact of violent behaviour on his children and partner.
  • Tell me what you love about each of the children.
  • I’m interested to hear what you think your role as a father is. What about your partner’s role as a mother?
  • Could you tell me about any worries you have about yourself as a father?
  • What about when you use violence?
  • How do you think the children hear and see you when you use violence? How do you think they feel?
  • Can you tell me about what happened on Saturday night that led up to you hitting Sally?

Be specific

  • Most people speak quite generally, saying things like, ‘I think I’m a good Dad!’ Ask him to be specific.

 

  • Tell me what you do and say that shows you are a good dad.

Avoid confrontation

  • Although part of your role is to help the father take responsibility for his violence, this is unlikely to happen if you become involved in a confrontation with him. If you can build trust and respect, you are more likely to be able to effectively challenge his violence and control.
  • Be prepared to name his behaviour if he starts to become aggressive. Ask him to manage his behaviour differently.

 

  • I don’t know if you are aware that you are … [clenching your fists, raising your voice].
  • I have noticed that you are raising your voice. Could you manage this differently?

Be supportive of his choices to not use violence

  • It is also important to remember that most fathers you encounter already have a range of skills in being non-violent, as often they are not violent outside of their intimate relationships. You can support these choices.
  • By exploring these discrepancies, you highlight that a father’s use of violence is a choice, and that it is not about a loss of control, but is actually about his beliefs that he has the right to control his partner and children.
  • Can you tell me about a time when you wanted to be violent, but were able to do something else?
  • What skills and strengths did you use to be able to do this?

Find the common ground you share

  • Focus on your mutual desire to keep his children safe.

 

  • We all want the children to be safe. We need to work together to find out the best way to do that.

Ask him for his explanation about worries about the child’s safety

  • This may give you information about how he is representing the concerns to others.
  • It may also give you an understanding of his level of empathy for the child and his willingness to work with you.
  • You have said that you don’t think the children are unsafe. Can you tell me what is keeping them safe?
  • Why do you think the police contacted us after they had been to your house?

Discuss how he sees his partner as a mother and how he talks about the children’s mother to them

  • This will give you an insight into how he sees her parenting, whether he sees himself as a victim, and how he uses control and violence to skew the bonds between the children and their mother.
  • How would you describe your partner as a mother?
  • What sort of mother is your partner?
  • What do you think is the role of a mother?
  • How would you like the children to talk about their mother? How would you like them to treat her?

Ask about coping

  • Ask about how he responds when the mother takes action to protect herself and her children.
  • Ask about how others react to his violence.
  • When Sally ran outside, what did you do?
  • When Sam hides in his room, what do you think about that? What do you do?
  • What do the police say when they come? What do they do? What do you think about that? What do you say? What do you do?
  • What do your friends do when you humiliate Sally?
  • What does your mum say about you hitting Sally in the face and breaking her nose?

 

Behaviours and attitudes to look out for

  • sexist opinions that denigrate women and girls.
  • beliefs that children should be disciplined in an abusive way, or punished violently or neglectfully for bad behaviour
  • an overestimation of what a child’s ability should be—physically, mentally or developmentally.
  • a belief that fathers are the head of the household and deserve more respect than other household members
  • signs of remorse. (Be curious about whether these are self-centred, out of concern about the impact for him, rather than genuine understanding about how he is harming his family.)

Note that fathers who use violence or coercion and control often present themselves as having changed when they may not have.

Practice tips for listening and responding

The following practice tips outline some common tactics used by fathers. Use the information to know what you should listen out for and what you can say and do in response.

He blames

He blames his partner for the violence. He says things like:

  • she provoked me
  • if she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have done this
  • it’s her fault

Bring the conversation back to his choice to use violent behaviours, what he did and the harm he caused. Ask him to specifically recall what happened. Be consistent and clear in conveying that you hold him responsible for the violence.

He says it wasn’t deliberate

He says it wasn't deliberate or denies any intention to cause harm.

Avoid using phrases like, ‘you lost it’ or ‘you have lost control’—these phrases strip fathers of their agency and choice in using abuse to control.

Highlight his responsibility when talking to him by using words such as:

  • choice
  • planned
  • deliberate
  • purposeful.

Expose the patterns in his violence by using words such as:

  • episodes
  • periods
  • repeatedly

rather than focusing on events and incidents that isolate his abuse.

He hides

He hides or minimises the extent of his violence against mothers and children. Concealing the true nature of harm can happen when he uses words such as hit, pushed or knocked.

He makes it mutual

He uses language that mutualises violence or implies consent

He says things like:

  • we had a fight
  • we had an argument
  • we had sex

Correct him and use language both in your conversations and in your reporting that represents how violence is unilateral, unwanted and not erotic.

Use words that accurately describe what happened, such as:

  • assault
  • beating
  • attack
  • violation
  • rape

He changes the topic

He changes the topic or fails to address the violence in his conversation by using words such as:

  • that
  • it

Be direct when talking about violent actions, and refer to the acts themselves, for example: ‘Why did you punch her in the face?’ not ‘Why did you do that?’

A part of being direct is naming the violence. Avoid acronyms like DV or DFV, or general terms like ‘it’ or ‘that’, that hide the extent and horror of the abuse.

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