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Domestic abuse through an intersectional lens: What social workers need to know

Social work training too often takes a generic approach to tackling domestic abuse, ignoring the unique harms faced by marginalised groups, a seminar at the recent COMPASS London Jobs Fair heard.

05/12/23

Domestic abuse through an intersectional lens: What social workers need to know

BASW Professional Officer Rebekah Pierre looked at ways of supporting survivors of domestic abuse from a range of backgrounds.

She said that intersectionality is a tool for analysing how different forms of oppression interact and impact on lived experiences.

As one example, she said that in the UK, LGBT+ communities experience disproportionately high levels of domestic abuse.

‘GALOP, the anti-LGBT+ abuse charity, says that one in four (27.5%) gay men and lesbian women and more than one in three (37.3%) bisexual people report at least one form of domestic abuse since the age of 16.’


Ms Pierre added that survivors share similar elements as their heterosexual cisgender peers but additionally may face:
- Threats of ‘outing’ through disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity to family, friends or work colleagues
- Threats to disclose HIV status without consent
- Manipulating survivors into believing that abuse is a ‘normal’ part of same-sex relationships
- Using immigration law to threaten a person with deportation to the country of origin, which might be unsafe due to g. anti-gay legislation
- Refusing to engage in safe sex
- Nearly one fifth of LGBT+ people in the UK have experienced someone trying to change, ‘cure’ or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Deaf communities were another example she discussed. Ms Pierre said that there are nine million people in deaf communities across the UK but deaf and hard of hearing people are among the most marginalised.

Social workers need to understand deaf culture and meet basic communication needs. Ms Pierre said that poor understanding of Deaf culture means that reports are based on wrong assumptions.
She discussed key messages from Sign Health, the charity of and for deaf people.
These include:
- Identifying the specific communication need, and ensureing it is met
- Education. ‘Try to educate yourself on how best to work with Deaf families. There are many linguistic and cultural nuances which means the needs of deaf families are different.’
- Being aware that the dynamics of a deaf-hearing relationship can be complex

Social workers need to understand different levels of deafness; effective communication means being direct and being prepared for a noisy environment. Also, ‘If a Deaf person nods, do not assume that means they understand you.’

Common examples of poor practice in social work include paying more attention to the hearing children than the deaf children because it is easier to communicate with them, and having home visits or child protection meetings without interpreters. She added that professionals should never use children as interpreters.

Ms Pierre concluded by saying that the lived experiences of domestic abuse will be different for each survivor – it is a product of the personal information that an abuser holds over the survivor and the experiences they have shared.

‘You can help to empower a survivor by asking strengths-based questions to better understand her needs and support her ability to expand her own space for action.’

She gave examples of strengths-based questions, such as:
• Who do you trust/who makes you feel safe?
• When do you spend time away from (perpetrator)?
• Tell me about a challenging day that you’ve had and what helped you to get through it?
• What do/did you like doing in your free time?
• Tell me what you would do if you had full control over your money?

Find out more about BASW membership and online resources for domestic abuse guidance: https://new.basw.co.uk/

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