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Section 8
Reducing Risks of Domestic Violence

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed how to create a reality check for your battered client who feels sorry for her batterer.

In this section, we will be discussing the survival tools many battered women may need to protect themselves from further harm, while they are in the "deciding to leave" stage.

Have you found, like I, that battered women are often paralyzed by fear and feel unable to do anything to protect themselves from their batterer? As you know, some battered women may need to take very small steps to avoid violence, whereas other battered women may need a very specific and detailed safety plan to protect themselves. And, as you also know, a battered woman's safety is always the first concern, and she is the only one who truly knows what is safe and not safe for her at any time. How safe is your battered client at this moment? Is time in your next session to re-review or re-assess some survival basics, sine they have not decided to leave yet, should that be their choice?

Let's look at Grace, a 22 year old woman in my battered women's support group, and how she developed survival tools to help protect her from her husband Thomas's abuse. Grace often talked about leaving. In the support group, I asked Grace if she felt she could develop a plan to help her deal with Thomas when he becomes angry until she finally did walk out. Grace agreed, but felt very doubtful that anything would work.

4 Survival Tools

♦ Survival Tool #1: Recognize Signals of Escalating Anger

I explained to Grace that the first step in protecting herself from Thomas's abuse was to recognize the signals of his increasing anger. I asked if Thomas starts to cuss, sweat, clenches his fists, or bulges his eyes before he becomes violently angry. Grace said, "I didn't realize it for a while, but after a few years I started to notice that his voice starts to crack. The first time it happened I started to make fun of it, but that only made him lunge toward me, even angrier."

♦ Survival Tool #2: Avoid Him When the Signal Occurs
Once Grace had identified Thomas's signal of escalating anger, I asked Grace if she could avoid him whenever she notices his voice beginning to crack. I told her that even the excuse of going to the bathroom could work. Grace stated, "No, I know I couldn't do that. Thomas just keeps going once he starts getting angry He would tear the bathroom door off."

♦ Survival Tool #3: Find Ways to Deescalate the Anger
Because Grace felt she would not be able to avoid Thomas by leaving the room when his anger escalated, I felt it may be helpful to instead discuss ways to deescalate the anger that Grace would be more comfortable with. As you know, there are very simple ways to do this, some which do not involve much action at all. Mary, another woman in the group, stated, "Well, if you can't move anyway once he gets angry, what if you just stand there, don't do anything at all?" Grace stated, "I guess that might work, I've tried edging away and that makes it worse. I don't really know. I'll try that. The next time Thomas's anger escalates, I will do and say nothing."

I also asked Grace if someone might come to her aid when Thomas's anger escalated. Other group members suggested that the distraction of someone else may help to deescalate Thomas's anger. Grace stated, "The only person who's ever home with me is my 3-year old daughter. But, no one knows about Thomas's violence anyway, no one." As with many battered women, Grace's response was guarded, and she was very hesitant to confide in others for help. Bernice, another woman in the group, stated, "There's no shame. My neighbor gets hit, too, and I come to her aid and she comes to mine. When my neighbor hears my husband yelling, she knocks on the door and asks to borrow something. Sometimes she even gets him to help her lift something that's too heavy for her."

♦ Survival Tool #4: Escape from the Situation
Grace did not feel comfortable asking a neighbor or friend for support, so I decided to discuss a more detailed and specific safety plan of escape for Grace to use when Thomas's anger turned to violence. I asked Grace if it was possible for her to get away once Thomas started beating her. Grace stated, "Even though I freeze when he starts to get angry, once he starts to hit me, my only thought is to get away. I broke free and ran twice before. After he hits me the first time, he hesitates and doesn't grab me. But, by the time the second blow comes he grabs me and I can't move anymore. So, as long as I move right after that first blow, I can get away."

Grace devised a plan including the above survival tools, as well as identifying where it was safe for her, what her financial resource was and how she would keep it, and what she would do with her 3-year old daughter. Grace told the group that her mother had taken her in after a beating once, and felt it was a safe place to return.

In our group, Grace said her safety plan of escape out loud to help her to remember it. She stated, "When Thomas starts to hit me, after the first blow, I will run out of the house, and grab the baby on the way. I will store a blanket for the baby underneath the staircase, which I can grab as I'm leaving if I need it. I will carry a $10 bill with me at all times pinned to the inside of my bra. With this $10, I will take public transportation to my mother's house. I will ask my mother for a key that I will also keep pinned to the inside of my bra together with the $10 bill." Have you found, like I, that it is helpful for the battered woman to review and repeat her safety plan of escape so she is better prepared to use it if necessary, until she decides to leave?

Think of a battered client you are currently treating. Would any of these four survival tools of recognizing signals of escalating danger, avoiding him if signal occurs, deescalating the situation, and escaping the situation help her to deal with her batterer? But why is Grace staying with Thomas?

In the next section, we will discuss your client's hurdling road blocks to leaving.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ehrensaft, M. K., Cohen, P., & Johnson, J. G. (2006). Development of personality disorder symptoms and the risk for partner violence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115(3), 474–483.

Moskowitz, K., Richmond, K., & Michniewicz, K. (2020). Caught in a bad romance: Endorsement of traditional romantic ideology, internalized heterosexism, and intimate partner violence experiences among sexual minority individuals. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. Advance online publication. 

Poole, G. M., & Murphy, C. M. (2019). Fatherhood status as a predictor of intimate partner violence (IPV) treatment engagement. Psychology of Violence, 9(3), 340–349.

Sijtsema, J. J., Stolz, E. A., & Bogaerts, S. (2020). Unique risk factors of the co-occurrence between child maltreatment and intimate partner violence perpetration.European Psychologist, 25(2), 122–133. 

Taft, C. T., O'Farrell, T. J., Doron-LaMarca, S., Panuzio, J., Suvak, M. K., Gagnon, D. R., & Murphy, C. M. (2010). Longitudinal risk factors for intimate partner violence among men in treatment for alcohol use disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(6), 924–935.

What survival tools can help a battered woman to deal with her abusive situation? To select and enter your answer go to Test

Section 9
Table of Contents