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This content originally appeared in our newsletter between August and September 2014 and reflected our views at the time. Caada is the previous name of SafeLives.

Top tips for domestic abuse practitioners from our Learning and Quality Services Manager, Jo Morrish.

As a domestic abuse practitioner, you are an expert on coercive control. But the agencies you work with may find it a troubling issue, might not understand and may feel unprepared to tackle. So it's crucial that you are proactive about sharing safe practice and building awareness with other professionals on the frontline.

The problem: Incidents of abuse are identified in isolation 

If a client reports an incident to the police, the police should look back through the history of the case to gain a fuller picture of the abuse. If agencies only look at isolated incidents, it's easy to underestimate the severity of the abuse and put the victim at even greater risk.

The solution:

  • Identify examples of behaviour that can indicate future harm, using the Severity of Abuse Grid. This may include obsessive phone calls or messages (including on social media), uninvited visits to the victim's home or workplace, loitering, and destroyed or vandalised property.

Useful resource: CAADA Domestic Abuse, Stalking and ‘Honour'-Based Violence (DASH) MARAC Risk Identification Checklist. Includes the Risk Identification Checklist, Severity of Abuse Grid and full IDVA practice guidance.

  • To help gather evidence of a pattern of abuse, where safe support the client to keep a diary of events including screenshots of messages on social media and copies of letters or emails. Recommend that they maintain any messages/gifts that are sent to them, and use all this as evidence when making a report to the police. Keeping clear case files will also support this information.Compiling evidence in this way will help to encourage appropriate use of stalking legislation by police, and if they use new powers of entry they'll also be able to gather forensic evidence. 
  • Talk to key services such as police and suggest allocating a single point of contact for the victim, such as the investigating officer, to collate past and future incidents to identify patterns of abusive behaviour.

The problem: Perpetrator behaviour is not being effectively addressed

Perpetrators of coercive and controlling behaviour are often adept at manipulating those around them – including professionals.

The solution:

  • If you see evidence that an agency is inadvertently colluding with the perpetrator, challenge it. Similarly, at MARAC, if you feel a perpetrator's behaviour is not being actively addressed or ‘closed down' (ie, by taking steps to divert, manage, disrupt or prosecute), be sure to raise your concerns with the Chair and work in partnership to address them. 

Useful resource: Guidance for MARACs: Addressing the abusive behaviour of alleged perpetrators.

  • Perpetrators may make allegations against the victim, so it is important that partner agencies are aware. Using a screening or assessment tool will help establish any underlying controlling behaviours that indicate the primary victim or perpetrator. If the perpetrator is found to be making false allegations, this should be used as evidence of abuse. 

Useful resource: Responding to counter-allegations.

The problem: Wider risks to the family are not being identified

Coercive control can affect not just the victim, but the whole family. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are more likely to harm their children both physically and sexually, while the impact on children of watching a parent being abused can be as negative for a child as being abused directly. The perpetrator may force the child to take their side, undermine the victim's relationship with the children or prevent them from caring for the children.

The solution:

  • Liaise with partner agencies – including Children's Social Care – to ensure that you address the impact of the abuse on the children, and that other professionals understand the complexities of coercive control taking place. This will ensure that children and the victim are supported and protected on an ongoing basis.

Useful resource: The Batterer as Parent by Lundy Bancroft, Jay G Silverman and Daniel Ritchie.

  • Encourage a ‘team around the family' approach at MARAC, identifying separate lead workers for the victim, perpetrator and children to engage and co-ordinate the safeguarding response.

Useful resource: Guidance for MARACs: National MARAC Scrutiny Panel: Coercive control

  • Work with other agencies to identify aggravating factors, including any mental health or substance misuse issues.

 Useful resources: Child Protection, Domestic Violence and Parental Substance Misuse by Hedy Cleaver, Don Nicholson, Sukey Tarr and Deborah Cleaver, and Domestic Violence and Child Protection edited by Cathy Humphreys and Nicky Stanley.