The VIA Inaugural Conference: Contemporary Development in Violence and Interpersonal Aggression Research on 24.10.14 brought together academics, practitioners and community members to meet and share ideas about matters of violence and interpersonal aggression. Devon Polaschek from New Zealand began the proceedings with the keynote address about her research into interventions with serious violent and sexual offenders. Devon’s talk set a high standard for the event and was followed throughout the day by some fascinating, quality research. There were four sessions at the Conference: family violence, interpersonal aggression & workplace violence, sexual violence and youth violence. There were also three workshops: university based violence prevention, incorporating change into risk assessment, and adult and child services and domestic violence.
The conference was well attended by individuals and representatives of organisations in Coventry and the surrounding areas and I was surprised by the sheer volume of different specialists and specialised organisations that exist to prevent and tackle VIA. Coventry is a somewhat pertinent venue for such an event given that police data demonstrate that the City has “the highest rate of reported DV in the West Midlands at 7.02 per 1000 of the population. Across agencies providing support to victims this totals 5,728 DV related contacts over a year; 18 cases per 1000 residents” (The Task and Finish Group 2013).
I presented a talk as part of the family violence session chaired by my supervisor and Director of Studies, Professor Erica Bowen, who is also the Founder and Chair of the VIA Special Interest Group. Presentations in this session included two that were very relevant to the Mothers Apart Project that is the focus of my PhD. Lorna O’Doherty talked about screening and counselling for women survivors of IPV in the primary care setting, and Diane Phimister spoke of the experiences of mothers who have left adult abusive relationships. I presented the details and findings to date of an assessment that I have been conducting of the needs of mothers who have become, or are at risk of becoming, separated from their children in a context of domestic and sexual violence and abuse (DSVA). The message of my talk was that the needs of this group of women are not currently being met, because no specialised service exists to address their needs. This is a problem in itself but it also causes a further problem because this group of women have to then access services for secondary problems in the absence of a specialised service that would more appropriately address their primary concerns and needs. Therefore, professionals are most likely to be responding to the secondary rather than the primary needs of mothers apart in whatever service they access for wont of something better. A dedicated service to address the needs of mothers apart would be the supreme remedy here, but in the absence of such an ideal, best practice training for professionals responding to mothers apart would certainly help. This is the rationale for the training programme that I am planning.
My presentation was the last in the family violence session and I noticed that there were several themes that ran through some of the talks. These included: mental health problems that are common to survivors of DSVA such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety; quality of life issues associated with chaotic lives, dysfunctional families and unhealthy relationships, which include ongoing post-separation violence for the majority of women survivors (Humphreys and Thiara 2002); secondary abuse commonly experienced by women being re-victimised and re-traumatised when involved in family courts and social services proceedings; and barriers to help-seeking behaviours due to a fear of the consequences of highlighting problems. Mothers have cause to be fearful, in particular, when asking for help with DSVA risks judgment, blame and criticism from those with the power to remove children from their care. Mother-blaming is common in children’s proceedings where decisions about parenting are frequently made by professionals who have had no specialised training in DSVA and lack knowledge of the dynamics of DSVA; particularly grooming and alienating tactics.
The training programme that I am developing is for professionals responding to mothers living apart from their children who might have regular, little or no contact, or they might be at risk of becoming separated from their children – or unborn child. I have already had some interest in the training programme from Bianca Petkova and Jacqui Kilburn who are the trainers at Women’s Aid National Training Centre so that is very exciting. Initially, it will be trialled in May 2015 at Coventry University and at one other venue subject to interest. If you would like to reserve a place on the training programme that will be piloted in May please email me on email@example.com – as this training is part of a PhD research project it will be free to participants.
As part of the training needs analysis, I am conducting interviews and focus groups from now until March 2015. I also run monthly planning groups in Coventry that both professionals and service users are invited to. Please contact me if you are interested in being involved in this project or would like to discuss any aspect of it.
I had a disappointingly low response to the questionnaires that I used at the conference to canvass opinions from attendees, despite promoting them on my stand and in my presentation. I consider the day to be a resounding success, however, as I made some great contacts with professionals who are interested in my research. I learned much from this experience, especially from reflecting on it and writing about it. Importantly, I have gained some acceptance that about 95% of people are not going to be interested in my research for all sorts of reasons but often because it is an uncomfortable subject. However, there are about 5% who are VERY, VERY interested – which is fantastic! This is a real breakthrough for me as I have experienced a variety of negative reactions to my research from the start that have been rather unnerving at times. I feel comforted now by the thought that my 85 year old mother-in-law might be right after all when she tells me that I am involved in pioneering work so will come up against a fair amount of opposition – and this is okay…
I met some amazing people at the conference who totally get my work. There were lots of questions from practitioners who were keen to know more and be involved. I was delighted to meet local campaigner and survivor of DVA, Zoe Dronfield, and her mentor friend and therapist, David Kilmurry. Zoe runs the charity, ‘I Want My Mummy’, that she set up to support mothers in child contact disputes with abusive ex partners. Zoe explained that the charity is named as such because that is what her daughter kept saying when her ex-partner gained temporary residency, ex-parte, during a period of hospitalisation due to his violence. Zoe explained how her ex-partner used a loophole in the law that allows abusive parents to file for a child arrangement order in court.
I also had a very insightful conservation with Manjit Ubhi from the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre Therapy Service. I learned about the impossible choices faced by some mothers who have been forced to leave their children behind when fleeing homelands due to violence. I keep on discovering more and more ways that mothers become separated from their children in a context of DSVA beyond being alienated by an abuser. Maternal alienation was the subject of my MSc project and I will blog about that soon.
At the conference, I also spoke to professionals from domestic abuse agencies, a clinical psychologist, an academic who was researching charity work with sex workers and a local magistrate. This very experienced and knowledgeable person not only spent time writing some detailed quality responses to my questions in the questionnaire, but also expressed interest in attending the training programme. I was thrilled to garner the views of such an eminent person and, indeed, all the opinions of those that were generous enough to share their thoughts with me. Meeting so many amazing people and hearing their views on what can be done about addressing the needs of mothers apart made this made the conference a great success for me and worth all the hard work!
Humphreys and Thiara (2002) ‘Routes to Safety: Protection issues facing abused women and children and the role of outreach services.’ Bristol: Women’s Aid Federation of England
The Task and Finish Group (2013) Coventry Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for 2012-13. [online] available from http://www.facts-about-coventry.com/uploaded/documents/JSNA%202012.pdf [29October 2014]