The Trauma Of…Domestic Violence

Members of the Greater Lowell Trauma Advisory Group created this summary sheet, based on a roundtable discussion held on February 12, 2013 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The purpose of the event was to educate one another through discussion and sharing, so that we may better understand the connection between trauma and domestic violence. Our goal was not to develop strategies to “fix the problem” but, rather, to raise awareness among professionals about the many layers of trauma and to develop ideas to support them. A total of 25 professionals participated in this event. What follows is a summary of our discussion. 

How are domestic violence and trauma related?

  • Fear, loss, and isolation are the hallmarks of both domestic violence and trauma.
  • The relationship makes it “domestic violence,” not the location of the abuse.
  • Sexual assault/intimidation make people feel afraid where they should feel safest: at home/within their primary relationship.
  • The cycle of Domestic Violence: children see it happening at home between their parents and, therefore, they are statistically more likely to be involved in a DV relationship when they get older.

What we are currently seeing in our work with these 
consumers in the Greater Lowell community?

  • Immigrant domestic violence: immigration papers are taken away by the abuser so that the victim cannot obtain services. They threaten the victim’s citizenship or with being deported if they report the abuse. Victims new to the country often have no other support system to fall back on.
  • Seeing lots of women who experience one DV relationship after another so that this becomes a pattern in their intimate relationships.
  • Sexual assault within marriages.
  • Complex trauma involving DV, as well as frequent relocation, homelessness, poverty.
  • There is “insidious” manipulation that can go on behind the scenes across cultures: what we see can be very different than what really goes on.

Challenges we face

  • Families want to stay together, but shelters often will not allow mothers and older male children to live in the shelter together.
  • Most shelters do not accept pets, even though they are important “members” of the family.
  • How do we respect the autonomy of the victim and her knowledge of what s/he needs to do to manage the situation while balancing with it our need to keep his/her children safe?
  • How do we teach skills to men who are abusive partners but acceptable fathers? There is a lack of resources for batterers – we work with the women but how do we work with the men to break the cycle of DV?
  • Keeping people safe where they are – dislocation can be very traumatic.
  • Group therapy is effective for this population, but groups are challenging to run, especially through the managed care insurance system.
  • Immediate crisis intervention is most important: how do we keep the victim safe? What immediate resources are available to people who seek services for DV? How do we balance giving help while keeping the victim safe?
  • Victims must often go to court multiple times to renew restraining orders, and this can negatively impact their employment.
  • How do we handle victims lying to protect their abusers, going back to the abuser multiple times, and not accepting the resources offered to them?

What we can do: Next steps

  • Remember that the victim is a survivor—this person is the “expert” of his/her own safety. Provide information and resources s/he can use to keep them safe.
  • Offer healthy relationship groups for men.
  • Strive to keep people safe where they (and their natural support systems) are already located.
  • Train staff from many agencies on domestic violence.
  • Work with the perpetrators, as well as the victims and their children, to stop the cycle of domestic violence.
  • Get involved in the new DCF Trauma-Informed Leadership Team (TILT) to better understand trauma and be able to serve this population.
  • All providers should send the same message: “Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault.”