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‘Witnessing domestic violence gave me my greatest asset’

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Independent Social Worker and Improvement Consultant Lavinia, or Vinnie, Moore on how experiencing domestic violence as a child became her greatest strength in child protection

Growing up in the 1950’s, Vinnie Moore remembers being frightened by her father’s violent behaviour towards her mother. As her mum was being assaulted, Vinnie grabbed the phone and dialled 999 for emergency services to ask the police to help and to stop her dad from beating her mother. Every time her mother was beaten, Vinnie called the police. Every time, the police would always say the same thing. How they were very sorry, but they couldn’t stop her father as a ‘man’s home was his castle’ and her father could do as he pleased in his own home.

Thankfully there are now robust domestic violence laws in place, says Vinnie, although she recognises that there is still a long way to go.  Legislation in the form of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 is in place and the government has also pledged to introduce a new landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to protect and support victims. Coercive Control is now recognised under legislation and there are Domestic Violence Prevention Notices and Orders in place. Claire’s Law (‘needing to know’ or ‘having to know’) the history of a new partner are also in place in police stations.

Women experience 35 assaults before they report domestic violence

Domestic violence is worryingly prevalent. Two woman a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner and one in four women will experience domestic abuse in our lifetime.  Research evidences that it takes 35 episodes of assault before a woman reports domestic violence to the police. So when a local authority receives a referral, it is likely that this will be the 36th rather than the 1st time that she has been assaulted. Although men can also be victims of domestic abuse, research states that woman are more likely to emotionally abuse their male partners, whereas women are more likely to be physically assaulted or killed.

Domestic abuse is also the most commonly cited factor when children are assessed by children’s social care and in 2015-16, approximately 222,000 episodes of domestic violence was cited as a factor. This translates into around 28 ‘new’ referrals every week in every local authority in the country. This is just reported assaults: there are thousands of incidents that go unreported.

“I had no idea how these early experiences would lead me to working for the past 30 years in children’s services but I have spent my working life in child protection from an assistant social worker to my current roles as Improvement Consultant, Auditor, Mentor and Trainer in front line services and committed to protecting children and young people from family abuse,” says Vinnie.

“My whole experience of domestic violence underpins everything when it comes to protecting children” – my understanding, my knowledge, my skill-set, my compassion – I know what it is like to live in a home frightened and controlled by a dominant parent – and that has provided me with the insight and wisdom to work with domestic violence and the passion to continue to train and develop social work professionals so they gain an understanding and awareness of the child’s experience,” she adds.

We blame ourselves for our partners’ abuse

Vinnie’s career took her from her home town of Southend to work in Essex and then on to the London Boroughs and the Midlands.  However, whilst working in the Essex region as a Joint Commissioner for Children’s Services, Vinnie was passed a book called ‘Living with the Dominator’. “It blew me away and I immediately contacted the author Pat Craven to find out more information. I found that she had also developed ‘The Freedom Programme’ to accompany the book and I met her at one of her training sessions in London the following week,” recalls Vinnie.

The Freedom Programme provides us participants with information, knowledge and an insight into the psychology of relationships and the roles played by abusive partners and the responses of victims and survivors. The aim is to help people to make sense of their experiences when they can’t understand what they are doing wrong that upsets their partner so much that they are violent and abusive towards them. “We unknowingly and wrongly blame ourselves for our partner’s abuse,” said Vinnie.

“‘The Freedom Programme’ was one of the most insightful and effective training and development events I had ever experienced. Rather than the usual ‘do unto us with statistics’ training, the FP was experiential and insightful.  Collectively we looked at a non–gender specified individual named ‘The Dominator’ and explored the characteristics and behaviour of this individual and how, being in any form of relationship with this person, impacts negatively on our physical, emotional and social welfare. The impact of this training was so profound.  I was privileged at the time to be working alongside a leader who completely understood the relevance of this impact and commissioned the local authority to commission Pat Craven to train over 300 social work professionals. We also set up a daily Freedom Programme as a joint multi-agency initiative where a reporting of domestic violence by a victim today would result in a visit to the children’s centre tomorrow – where a crèche, coffee and nurture was given - and the first FP session introduced. This transformed children and young people’s lives and changed and improved social work perceptions and interventions in working with domestic violence.”

Men assault women because they believe they can

Working in London and the South East, Vinnie still meets social work professionals who were party to the training and hears of the wonderful work they are continuing to do with children, young people and their families.

In recent years Vinnie has worked as a Lead Mentor and Coach for WillisPalmer and has also invested in a two-year professional training with Jamie Smart who is the author of ‘Clarity’.  As a Clarity Principled Practitioner together with the Freedom Programme model, Vinnie has undertaken individual work with perpetrators of domestic violence (many of whom have served custody). There is a common denominator with all these individuals in that they dominate and assault woman because they believe or think they can, rather than being angry and upset.

“My intervention challenges the belief system (based on patriarchy, memory, superstition, life experiences) which is created from their ‘thinking in the moment’ – for the perpetrator to gain awareness and insight.  I work from the principle ‘thought is a construction not an instruction’ – so just because they think, it doesn’t mean they need to act!” she explains.

Vinnie states that some women stay with abusive partners because they are at risk of being killed if they try and leave, others fear for the safety of their children, often have no financial status and would have no home if they left. “The ‘Cinderella complex’ still exists and we want to be loved and cared for – and ‘Dominators’ are often charming, charismatic and attractive …… ‘the partner of our dreams’.  It is still a male dominant society and although women have more choices, equality is not embedded into our existence,” she adds.

So, can perpetrators of domestic violence really be cured? “To say cured suggests it is an illness and it is not, it is a belief system and therefore a thought - and we are all capable of ‘fresh thinking,’ – and through greater learning, understanding, insight and education there has to be hope that in the future, we can have healthy loving relationships based on friendship, equal partnership and love,” Vinnie concludes.

 

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