Caring for women suffering gender violence in Oxford

I met Jonathan Da Cruz in Lisbon, as we both participated in the final event of the feminist caravan of the World March of Women, in October 2015. He was the rapporteur of the Gender and Domestic violence workshop, as he works at social structures in Oxford. Unfortunately his workshop was at the same time with the Jineology one, so I didn’t participate.

Luckily he gave me this interview.

by Marina Kallergi

Participant in the action of World March of Women in Lisbon october of 2015

Hello! At first could you explain to us what exactly you are doing as a social worker with domestic violence victims and structures?

Hello, thank you for inviting me for this interview. I´m not exactly a social worker, and in the Domestic abuse services we don´t work as social workers, although some of my colleagues have that degree. Within our services we can work as “Helpline & Access Support Worker”, “Outreach Worker” and “Support Officer”. I worked as a Helpline & Access worker for 8 months, where I covered the helpline which everyone can call to and it’s a free service. The Helpline is basically the first contact with the Service users, where we provide emotional and practical support. During the call, we risk assess the clients to understand better the level of risk the client is at that moment, and we discuss further support depending on the case. We can make referrals for different services and agencies, as solicitors to help with divorce or non-molestation orders (which are a civil court order designed to protect people from domestic violence. They are designed to prevent an abuser from molesting the applicant for the order, and can in some circumstances be used to protect their children as well. Non-molestation orders also forbid the abuser from asking others to harass or intimidate the applicant, and can also be extended to forbid the damage or disposal of property) or we can make a referral for outreach services that support the service user on the emotional and practical level on a weekly basis, and we can also refer to Refuge, that provides safe accommodation to women and children. At the moment I´m working as a Support officer in a Refuge where we support the residents in the most different things, while we provide the weekly key working session. We help the residents to rebuilt their confidence and to build an independent life. During the time they stay in Refuge, we help them in Court hearings, in medical appointments and in a lot of different thing depending on each individual case.

At who do you give help to? As we read there the structures aren’t only for women. Could you explain us more- because in Greece the social infrastructure are only for women.

We provide support for everyone. Anyone that is a victim of domestic abuse can use our services no matter what gender, country, race or sexual orientation they are. All the different services are available for both women and men, except refuge that are only run for women but there is several Refuge for men around UK to whom we can make a referral for our male clients.

How easy is for a man to admit that he’s a victim of domestic violence?

Unfortunately we can observe that it is still hard for men to admit that they are victims of domestic violence. I think that year after year we can see more and more men to be strong enough to admit that they are victims and to believe that if someone (even if their wife / partner) mistreat them, they should seek support and perpetrators should be brought to justice. But we know that in the sexist society we live in, the social expectations projected in a man makes him not to disclose the abuse, being afraid of how friends/family/ neighbors will look at him.

In Greece those days we speak a lot about the some-sex couples. People who participate in lgtbqi movement said that in some-sex couples families there is not violence or alienation as in heterosexual families or couples. From your experience what do you believe? Could we say that?

We can´t say that as it is not true. I would say same sex couples also adopt the same gender norms and roles as heterosexuals couples and that violence happens because there is an imbalance of power and control. Unfortunately domestic violence happens to all people, no matter the culture, race, religion, gender, social class or sexual orientation. That said, what we can say is that domestic violence seems to happen a lot more in same-sex couples of men when compared with same-sex couples of women, based on the calls we receive. Once again this proves that the sexist society where we live and where we are educated stills makes men the big part of the problem.

We read that there is not a specific type of person or character that could be a victim of domestic violence-it could happen to all of us. Βut could you say that there is a special type of abouser? Could we recognize them and protect ourselves?

I wouldn´t say that there is a special type of abuser. I do believe that there is no difference between the physical abuser and the emotional one, the only difference it the lengh of the relationship. We know now that the majority of the abuse is based in the controlling and coercive behaviour, so the abuser starts saying to the partner, for example, what to wear, after a while if that doesn´t work the abuser will start to be more agressive and will do things like shouting, intimidating, and after that time if this behaviour turn to not be efficient, the abuser will escalate a little bit more.

I would advise everyone to by the book “Living with the dominator” by Pat Craven, where she shows she the different tecniques that perpetrators use to control their victims, althought the book and its programme is design for white british women we can see there are a lot of common factors within the european culture (this book needs to be adapt for example to the latin population and does not fit the asian population) .

That said, I would like to emphasize one of the most dangerous types of abuse that most of the time is misunderstood by everyone. The controlling and coercive behaviour is without a doubt really dangerous and happens a lot within the young adults. Because it´s easy to do, teenagers or young adults use the mobile phones, and the different kind of social media to control their girlfriends/boyfriends, with what is described as “being jealous because he/she loves me” when in fact the most commun way of abuse.

How can a victim come to contact with you? With a call or online for example? Is it possible to for you to verify the story you are told?

A victim can seek support calling the Domestic Violence Helpline. Victims can call and tell their experience through the phone, or just ask for a face-to-face meeting if they don´t feel comfortable talking on the phone.

I can say that we can verify the story we are told, but we always work from the principle that the victim is saying the truth. When I receive a call what the victim tells me is nothing but the truth, and my goal is to help in what can be a life threatening situation. When you start providing further support to that victim and after you make sure the victim is safe you will have a more clear understanding of the situation.

That said, before offering a space in a Refuge we always ask for background checks to the police, social services, and previous services the victim may had support from to make sure that the client won’t put in risk the other residents and staff.

Could you help the victim only psychologically? Could you provide shelter for them? If yes, for how long? How does it work?

The amount of support provided to each client depends on their needs. Different service users will need different kind of support, or support in different areas. The support can go from just emotional support via phone to offer a space in a Women’s Refuge, including help with legal and medical issues. Like I said as someone´s support worker you will try to help the client in everything she needs.

When we offer someone a space in a Refuge, she can stay in Refuge until 2 years. This can be extended if by the end of the 2 years it’s agreed that the victim would benefit from staying in Refuge a few more time.

Which kind of help could you give to a victim to start a new life? Could you help them with finding a work or a new apartment?

We can help with pretty much everything. Giving the example of victims in a Refuge, as soon as they arrived and the after the risk assessment is completed, we start working together with the client to look forward. That said, and apart from all the emotional support we provide, we help them with their Curriculum, looking for jobs, we give them information about free English lessons, free activities as dancing, painting, volunteering. We try to match what’s available with what the client needs and likes with the goal of building her confidence and helping her to feel empowered and independent. We also support our clients looking for a place to live as soon as they feel ready for that, and even after they leave the Refuge, we will continue to offer regular support until the client feels she’s ready to be on her own.

Also you have a service to help the perpetrators. Could you explain how it works?

This is a Program called “Making Changes” in the county my service covers. The length of the program is 6 months with a 2 hours session weekly.

“Making Changes” It works like a support group with perpetrators and one male and one female facilitator, they meet once a week and they try to challenge some of the beliefs and behaviors that lead to domestic abuse.

During the 6 months we try to make them understand what a healthy relationship is, and more important what is abusive. You can observe that most of the perpetrators in the group will not agreed with some of the things they are challenged as they don’t see it as abuse. For example sexual violence, it’s very rare that a perpetrator sees himself as sexual abuser even if he admits to coerce his partner to have a sexual relationship.

How could you act on domestic violence which is justified by culture? Like female genital mutilation, honour based abuse or forced marriage without offending the culture at all?

Culture can’t be excuse for abuse, and that’s the message that we try to pass to people.

In the UK we are lucky enough to have organizations that offer specialist support around those specific areas. I think part of the solution is to start talking about these issues publicly to end the tabus.

We have organizations as “Oxford Against Cut” tackling the FGM issue, and we have “Karma Nirvana” tackling Honor Based Violence/Forced Marriage. In the UK the police also have a special unit to deal with Forced Marriage.

As a worker for the Domestic abuse services, the service we provide for victims of this kinds of abuse is based on the same grounds, however with differences in the risk management due to the fact that normally there is more than one perpetrator (sometimes the all family and community) and we have to make sure that if the victim decides to flee she will not be found by the family/community.

Why are the victims advised to stay in the violent relationship until the final crisis and not to leave immediately?

That´s not true at all. At least not here.

We never advise a victim to stay in a violent relationship, and proof of that is the fact that some of the clients that we have in Refuge left the relationship before the perpetrator started to be physically violent.

On the other hand, we don´t also tell them to leave, as is not ethical and the goal is that the victim is the one in control of her life and her decisions.

That said, what we always try to do is to give all the options available, the emotional support necessary and make them think about how great a life without abuse can be, hoping they will decide to leave the relationship.

P.S: More explanations about the words

So, finally, explain us why do you use the word “clients” and not “victims” or “survivors”?

Apologise me,  unfortunately here people use the word “clients” as they don’t have the same “intension” as we have in our countries when we say “clients”. That’s why I tried to use the expression “service users” as I still think that “victims” or “survivors” are patronising and sometimes wrong.