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Victim blaming

Don't blame a mother for a father's violence

Child protection practitioners, and society in general, often inadvertently punish mothers for the violent choices of mfathers. This happens in the way we talk about, think about and behave towards women who have been hurt by violence.

Common stereotypes are:

  • The passive victim: This is associated with words like ‘battered women’s syndrome’ and ‘learned helplessness’. This language depicts women as passive objects rather than individuals with agency and strength. These words pathologise mothers, rather than focusing on the actions of fathers who use violence to control.
  • The active survivor: Active and strong, this mother has sought help and ‘chosen’ to leave. This kind of language can be positive, but can create a false division between mothers who can leave violent relationships and mothers who are unable to leave due to financial, cultural or supportive restraints, or who fear a father hurting them or someone they love after they leave.
  • The neglectful mother: Painted as ‘unable to cope’ or ‘unable to properly care for her children’, this mother may turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way of coping, or may develop adaptive mental health issues as a result of the violence.


Make sure you do not fall into the trap of placing the blame of the violence and the impact on the children in the home on the mother rather than the father choosing to use the violence.

A life free from violence is a process

A mother who is experiencing domestic and family violence is emotionally and physically moving between:

  • keeping her children safe
  • keeping herself safe
  • making sense of her situation
  • loving the man and hoping he will change
  • trying to take control of her life
  • worrying about being able to do it on her own
  • trying to figure out what she wants
  • managing physical, emotional and financial trauma.

‘Achieving a life free of violence and abuse is a process, it’s not an incident or a one-off or something we can give people good advice about … the process is a series of steps or stages along a pathway which is spiral like in nature and women can move up and down that spiral ...’

(Laing, 2008).

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