During this time of crisis, adapting our work with families impacted by perpetrators’ behaviors is a critical task. Disasters and crises are associated with a differential impact on vulnerable individuals and families. (Jenkins & Phillips, 2008; Molyneaux et al., 2020) The COVID-19 outbreak and the stresses of the social responses is affecting a wide swath of our societies including adult and child domestic abuse survivors. The Safe & Together Institute is committed to doubling its efforts during this time to provide critical and useful information and virtual options for training and support. The following is the first in a series of COVID-19 specific practice-oriented blog posts.
Partnering with adult survivors is more important than ever. While the basics of partnering with survivors have not changed, understanding the significance of the changing context, and differences in perpetrators’ patterns is critical. As the effects of the pandemic and social distancing ripple through our communities, all aspects of everyday life are impacted. Custody and access have always been areas where perpetrators can use children as weapons against their partner, continuing coercive control post-separation. In the context of the current situation, custody and access may be disrupted by social distancing mandates, and a perpetrator’s use of fears around COVID-19 to control her contact with children, and even her employment or contact with other people. In situations where there are custody and access arrangements, perpetrators may threaten to or actually not return a child to the adult survivor. He may also use COVD-19 as a way to attempt to control how his partner manages her contact with the others, e.g., “I won’t return the child unless you stop working.” He may also use the closing of supervised visitation centers as an excuse to force more direct contact even when it isn’t safe or legal.
Courts are likely to be less accessible to assist in the resolution of these matters, leaving survivors more reliant than ever on their strategies and planning. It is unclear yet how family courts will respond to a parent who refuses to return a child to their other parent, using fears of COVID-19 as a justification. If prior history is a guide, the response may be gendered with parental alienation accusations more likely to be leveled at survivors than perpetrators. (Meier, 2020; Saunders & Oglesby, 2016) We can also expect that as perpetrators use COVID-19 as a justification of their custody and access-related control, we will observe increased a) behavioral and emotional symptoms in children, b) direct abuse of children where they are isolated with a perpetrator, and c) increased emotional distress in survivors.
As we all keep moving forward and learning together about how to work in this changing environment, the basics of the Safe & Together Model’s perpetrator pattern-based approach with an emphasis on partnering with survivors is even more relevant than ever. Here are few practice tips to keep in mind as you work with families.
COVID-19 doesn’t suspend a perpetrator’s accountability and needs to change.
For more Safe & Together Institute-specific and other COVID-19 domestic violence specific resources.
Read the Safe & Together Institute whitepaper on how to set high expectations for perpetrators and change: Perpetrator Intervention Program Completion Certificates are Dangerous.
Listen to our most recent COVID-19 podcast from Partnered with a Survivor
Check out our Virtual Academy page for more information on distance learning options
• Reading List •
Fotheringham, S., Dunbar, J., & Hensley, D. (2013). Speaking for Themselves: Hope for Children Caught in High Conflict Custody and Access Disputes Involving Domestic Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 28(4), 311–324. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-013-9511-3
Mandel, D. (2020). Perpetrator Intervention Program Completion Certificates are Dangerous. Safe & Together Institute.
Meier, J. S. (2020). U.S. child custody outcomes in cases involving parental alienation and abuse allegations: What do the data show? Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 42(1), 92–105. https://doi.org/10.1080/09649069.2020.1701941
Saunders, D. G., & Oglesby, K. H. (2016). No way to turn: Traps encountered by many battered women with negative child custody experiences. Journal of Child Custody, 13(2–3), 154–177.