The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “victims”

Social worker suspended again despite domestic violence plea

Social worker suspended again despite domestic violence plea.

There is something particularly sad about this case, a social worker suspended from practice resulting from problems that arose when she herself was a victim of domestic violence.  No doubt there are some gaps in the story, there always is, but on the basis of what has been reported here in Community Care it appears that this social worker has been rather harshly treated.

In a nutshell, “the social worker’s misconduct involved being intoxicated, verbally abusive and obstructive to police who were called out to her home”.  She lied to the police by taking responsibility for an incident her partner committed because of her fear of reprisals and had been “subjected to a long period of violence by her partner”.

The HCPC concluded that the social worker concerned “did not have insight into how her behaviour in her private life could damage the reputation of the social work profession” and had not submitted evidence of “remedying her conduct”.

This report from Community Care raises a lot of questions.  What is not clear in this report is what is meant by ‘remedying her conduct’.

Does it refer to recognising that being verbally abusive and obstructive to the police (who are fellow professionals) was not appropriate?  I can only hope that the social worker concerned would agree that it wasn’t appropriate.

Does it mean ending the relationship?  What’s not clear from the report is whether the relationship is still ongoing and what support she (and possibly her partner) has received regarding this relationship, if any.  She should have some understanding of the impact of domestic violence on victims (including the children of victims), not least through her training and work experience and hopefully would want to protect herself from continuing to be a victim in this situation.  However, as we all know, all the training and knowledge in the world doesn’t make it any easier for the victim to escape from a violent relationship.  Considering the high level of stress caused by being in a DV relationship and considering that social work is a stressful occupation I would have thought being on long term sick might have been an alternative, and more caring and supportive option, than suspension (there is no indication whether or not that was considered).

Or does it mean demonstrating how her relationship and the consequences of her relationship is damaging the reputation of the social work profession?  This is a challenging one, on which much of the HCPC decision turns.  Yet I cannot help but wonder how much it really does damage the profession.  There are certainly some who would appreciate knowing that social workers are human and can suffer the consequences of difficult situations, while others might find it a reason to look down on them.  It certainly shouldn’t be current behaviour but for it to have been experienced in the past should be seen as valid experience rather than something that damages the image of the profession.  I wonder if the panel considered how she would handle a situation of a service user asking her about her own ‘run in’ with the police?  It could be used as a discussion point on what is not appropriate and why.

Or does it mean that social workers should not become intoxicated (woe to social workers, police, teachers, nurses, doctors and most other professionals in that case!).

Elsewhere it has been commented that social workers’ lives are no more ‘squeaky clean’ than most people’s.  But sometimes it feels as if the message is that they should be.  And, social worker or not, short of more information, this report looks rather like a case of victim blaming: a victim of domestic violence she has been blamed for the consequences.

 

Heist and High

Heist and High by Anthony Curcio and Dane Batty (2013), published by Nish Publishing (www.nishpublishing.com), Portland Oregon

Do you ever find yourself picking up some relaxing reading for the holidays, or even just the weekend, only to find that there’s still this underlying theme that you can relate back to work? Well, this book fits into that category.

Three quarters of the way through this book I was thinking, “This man’s gonna die soon”. He doesn’t of course and that’s the miracle of Anthony Curcio.

Heist and High is the true story of an amazing and successful athlete, with a promising professional career ahead of him, who through the misfortune of a couple of accidents quit the game. Fuelled by a growing addiction to prescription painkillers, prescribed following those accidents, Anthony turned his amazing mind and obsessive personality to crime. Meticulous research and planning meant he managed to stay one step ahead of the law – most of the time. Lies and deceit became second nature. Rehab and relapse became the norm. His family were powerless to help him.

Descending further into a living hell Anthony’s body suffered – anybody else, pumping such a massive cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol around their body, would have died of an overdose. Had he not begun to falter in his meticulous planning, had he not been caught for what was his most audacious crime, robbing a Brinks Matt truck as it stopped for a regular cash delivery, it is doubtful if Anthony’s body could have held out much longer.

Anthony’s story is a lesson to us all, showing how easy it is for someone to fall into the vice like grip of addiction, an addiction that takes over and supersedes all other values, fooling friends and family with lies and deceit.

In the meantime the poor unsuspecting professional, picking up this biography for an innocent bit of holiday reading, will undoubtedly find themselves thinking of clients, pupils, service users and others they know or have known. If I had been Anthony’s teacher, coach, social worker, doctor, psychologist, would I have seen the signs sooner? Would I have had him assessed for OCD? Would I have been able to help prevent some of the traumas he and his family went through? Or would I too have praised him for the very qualities that led to his downfall?

Anthony was a very successful athlete and the only real drawback of the book is the abundance of football terminology in the early chapters that cannot be easily translated into English understanding of football. However, there’s no missing the underlying message of success and failure, hope and despair, trial and overcoming that makes this a worthwhile read.

Today Anthony has served his prison sentence. Released in April 2013 he is dedicated to trying to reach other young people with his story in the hope of preventing them and their families from going through the hell he and his family went through.

I wasn’t hit

“It never occurred to me I might be a victim of domestic violence. After all, I was never hit, there were no bruises or broken bones. It was only one day when I was talking to a couple about the effect of their domestic violence on their pre-school child it occurred to me that I too was a victim.

The child’s developmental timetable was not going to wait for them to sort it out. I didn’t have children and could deal with my unhappy situation according to my own schedule, and the shocking recognition of that situation as domestic violence.

I was not hit, but I was being subjected to psychological, emotional and sexual abuse that had been progressively escalating over nearly fifteen years. But were those behaviours domestic violence? Relationships are complicated and drawing the line between normal and OK behaviours and abuse is not easy. Not everyone considers threats and threatening behaviour to be harmful or ‘violence’.”

In 2012 the UK Government published a new definition that includes non-physical behaviours as domestic violence: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional. Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

“My experience fit that definition. My then husband punished me for not being a ‘good wife’, by his own definition which he refused to tell me, through sleeping in the spare room, and later threatening to leave. He cut me off from friends and associates by dropping out at the last minute from social engagements and events as punishment for my not getting ‘it’ right until I stopped making plans or accepting invitations, and forcing me to choose between him and friends because he believed they didn’t respect him. His mannerisms and voice were aggressive to me and others, although he insisted he was expressing frustration and not aggression. He told everyone he met I was having an affair (when I wasn’t). And he tried to surreptitiously force on me sexual practices I had explicitly refused.

My own behaviour was affected. I was ‘walking on eggshells’ and when I sensed the atmosphere change I tried to escalate things to get the next showdown started and over with. Typical behaviours of a domestic violence victim.

But he didn’t hit me: I had no reason to end the relationship, or so I thought, until the day he raped me. I found a strength and determination I didn’t know I had: miraculously I managed to get him to leave, resisted the suicide threats and became one of the rare group of women who don’t take several attempts at terminating a relationship (the average is 7). Perhaps because I had never been hit.”

Why don’t more victims leave sooner? Why do so many keep going back? Sarah Buel suggests some answers in her Fifty Obstacles to Leaving aka Why Abuse Victims Stay.

With psychological, mental and emotional abuse many may not even recognise what is happening. The destruction of self-esteem and self-confidence make facing the future alone that much harder. Family and friends often don’t understand: they can’t see the scars. And surely, if it’s all your fault, all your inadequacy, then shouldn’t you just stay where you are and try harder to get it right? The abuser is usually so reasonable, so plausible. They truly believe they are right to behave as they do.

It’s not enough to ask why victims stay. We need to ask why they leave. What is the ‘the final straw’? When all resources have been used up where does that spark to survive come from? We need better support for victims as they go through the stages to reach that final move. And we need better protection for those who are leaving or have left as this can be the most dangerous time. While professionals such as police, social and health workers have a role to play society needs to better recognise the power of domestic abuse and the difficulties victims face.

Respect! as well as responsibility

Respect is a variable.  In some ways it is a right.  But it can be lost and it can be given.  It can be deserved and it can be earned.  It can be directed outwards towards others.  It can be directed inwards towards ourselves.  But one thing is for sure: it seems to be missing in a lot of places, including university campuses.

A new report commissioned by the NUS (National Union of Students) “That’s what she said” has come up with some alarming findings.  And it links in with the anti-blame-the-victim campaigns.  The NUS found that the extent to which “lad” cultures are prevalent in university campuses is detrimental to education and social development.  At the ‘soft’ end, if there can be a soft end, a generous interpretation might liken some of the findings to “Miss World” competitions at best – sexist and about women’s looks and bodies.  Of course, in an environment populated mainly by hormonally maturing young adults it might be reasonable to expect an undercurrent of sexual interest.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The most alarming aspect is a rise in jokes about rape, including one that points out that the under-reporting of rape makes it worth taking the risk.

They might be considered old fashioned values but it’s about time respect and responsibility started getting a better press.  If there was more respect for others as well as ourselves there might be less victims of crime (sexual or otherwise).  And there might be less need for police and social workers.

Know Your Responsibilities

The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by change.org to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats.  The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”.  Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.

I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts and images at the time.  I agree with both change.org and the NUS that a victim should not be blamed for being a victim.  But isn’t there another message in the NHS Know Your Limits campaign, which is about being aware of our individual and personal responsibility to ourselves?  If the facts are that one in three reported rapes occurred when the victim was drunk isn’t it the responsibility of the authorities to make that information available?  Don’t we then have the freedom of choice as to whether or not to take that information on board and decide whether we want to take it in to account when we make our decisions about our drinking habits?

We live in a culture that has moved from taking personal responsibility to blaming others for all our woes.  We have a government that perpetuates the message of fear on the one hand while they make it look as if they are protecting us, such as recent legislation that automatically sets up filters on home internet to protect the vulnerable from exposure to harmful websites, or allows the government to monitor all emails, texts, phone calls, to enable the authorities to prevent terrorism.  But the underlying message in the NHS Know Your Limits was to take responsibility for ensuring your own safety.

The wider campaign of which this change.org petition is a part sates that the only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists.  And that is true, but until the authorities have successfully eradicated the issues that lead to rape – power struggles, inequality, difference and more – from our society we all, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to look after ourselves.

Rape is a heinous crime, unimaginable in its violence and invasion.  Emotive in all its guises.  Which can make it difficult to consider the message objectively.  There are less emotive crimes where we take responsibility to protect ourselves from those crimes – we lock windows and doors when we go out, the car door when we park it, we conceal purses and wallets to reduce the risk of being targeted by pickpockets, or get a lift or taxi rather than walk through known dangerous areas (for protection against mugging), make sure the car we are driving has brakes that work, use the right ropes and harnesses when rock climbing or bungee jumping.  Sometimes our precautions are not enough, or we are just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we become a victim of a crime or an accident.

I often support the campaigns of change.org but not this one.  Not all my social work colleagues will agree with me.  In fact, I know many who will be supporting the campaign.  It’s because I believe the issues are way more complicated and far reaching than the change.org campaign.

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