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Acts of protection

Partnering with the mother

Restore her sense of self-efficacy and identity by partnering with her and highlighting her acts of protection. Mothers hurt by violence cope in a range of overt and covert ways—mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In society, there is an assumption that a victim has not tried to protect herself or her children unless she fights back physically.

If we don’t partner with the mother, we miss the opportunity to build trust and to identify specific acts of protection she uses to minimise the violence against her and keep herself and her children safe.

Noticing and being curious about acts of protection is absolutely central to working with mothers because:

  • it can restore a mother’s power and self-esteem
  • we need to know how people cope and manage the violence to have a full account of the violence itself and how safe or unsafe the child is
  • understanding what she does to cope will help us to build safety plans.

Some acts of protection or coping strategies to be aware of

A mother may:

  • drink or use substances to cope with the violence and control
  • start an argument so that the father’s violence is directed at her instead of the children or so she can have some control over when he assaults her
  • give him access to the home when a domestic violence order is in place, as a way to pacify him and prevent an attack
  • seem emotionally detached, as a way of coping with the pain and suffering.

His actions and her acts of protection

The following table provides a guide to some common tactics used by violent fathers and the strategies mothers use to survive and cope. This is not a definitive list, and every mother will respond in her own way.

What he does What she does to cope
Isolates her
  • Tries to keep in contact with her friends secretly.
  • Reminisces about past good times with friends.
  • Ceases contact with people to prevent his violence.
Tries to humiliate her
  • Thinks and acts in ways that help her keep her feelings of self-worth.
  • Holds her head up high, privately hating him and how he treats her.
  • Explains away his behaviour to others.
Tries to control her
  • Finds discrete aspects of her life where she can exercise control.
  • Does the opposite of what he says or ignores his instructions.
  • Does what he wants her to do in a dramatic way.
  • Leaves the house to try to escape his control.
Blames her for the violence
  • Refuses to engage in conversations where the violence is referred to in language that implies she is equally to blame, such as ‘conflict’, ‘arguments’ or ‘fights’ (known as ‘mutualising’ language).
  • Gets angry when mutualising language is used.
  • Rings the police after or during assaults.
  • Showers after sexual abuse.
Makes excuses for his use of violence
  • Thinks about and is aware of the fact that she is not to blame.
  • Does not accept his view of himself as a loving partner or father (this may or may not be expressed—it may just take the form of her feelings towards him, such as hatred or mistrust).
  • Tells people about the abuse.
  • Refuses to stay at home and hide the bruises, scars or cuts.
Tries to hurt her
  • Acts in a way to reduce or escape the pain.
  • Moves her body in a way that reduces the impact of the assault, for example, putting her arms in front of her head.
  • Runs to another room.
  • Stops wearing clothes that may make it easy for him to strangle her.
  • Takes dangerous items out of the house.
  • Numbs her feelings by emotionally trying to disconnect or using alcohol and other drugs.
  • Tries to hide how at risk she is by putting on a brave face or publicly denying the violence.


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