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Tackling family and domestic violence among refugee communities
Using a trauma-informed approach to inform Best Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds
Karen Martin underscores the importance of acknowledging past traumas suffered by refugees, both pre- and post-settlement, and taking them into account in the design of domestic and family violence interventions.
One of the overarchingBest Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds is ‘all FDV (family and domestic violence) interventions with individuals, families and communities from refugee backgrounds are trauma-informed’.
Trauma is an emotional response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to an event which would be considered distressing to almost everyone and generally outside the range of usual human experience. Trauma-informed practice involves recognising, understanding and responding appropriately to the impact that trauma may have on an individual. Physical, psychological and emotional safety underpin trauma-informed cultures and environments, which also promote a sense of control and empowerment.
Domestic violence interventions for refugees need to account for individual experiences of trauma, both pre- and post-settlement, as well as feelings of safety. For refugees, experiences of trauma and living in fear are common. Experiences of trauma are sometimes classified by an individual’s report of their worst-ever event. The worst-ever event for refugees is often too traumatic for many non-refugee people to conceive. For refugees, feelings of safety prior to settlement are almost universally missing.
Compounding the experience of pre-settlement traumatic experiences, forced relocation and culture shock, is the intergenerational trauma experienced by many refugees. This transmission of the impact of trauma on subsequent generations, although somewhat heterogeneous, tends to exacerbate the powerlessness, lack of control and sense of safety for refugee families.
While these past traumatic experiences do not excuse violent behaviour, evidence indicates that prior experience of torture and trauma is associated with men’s use of violence. Refugee men who are violent are often dealing with loss of income and identity, powerlessness, settlement stress, as well as past traumatic experiences. To not acknowledge the contribution of this stress and their past experiences to domestic violence is to miss an important factor that may influence the actions of perpetrators. The Best Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds help provide guidance for service providers in how to support behaviour change for violent refugee men. The principles also provide guidance on how to incorporate experiences, and their impact, in the strategies that are implemented to support behaviour change.
It is worthwhile noting that the need to be trauma-informed in behaviour change interventions extends beyond domestic violence in refugee populations. Overall, domestic violence interventions need to be trauma-informed. This approach will enable implementation of appropriate strategies to encourage and support sustained behaviour change. Proposed trauma-informed practice approaches within domestic violence programs include: establishing emotional safety, restoring choice and control, facilitating connection, supporting coping, responding to identity and context, and building strengths.
Early intervention to help reduce and prevent domestic violence behaviour and increase the societal understanding and acceptance of trauma-informed practice is also required. One of the barriers to implementing strategies that are trauma-informed is the societal focus on the importance of punishment and retribution. Incarceration alone of men who perpetrate domestic violence rarely leads to changed behaviour. Further, men who perpetrate domestic violence are often seen to shift their behaviour to another person when sustained behaviour change is not achieved through punitive responses. Restorative justice is underpinned by the philosophy of trauma-informed practice and the increased implementation of restorative practices is likely to assist with effecting long-term change of male perpetrator behaviour. We need increased research in this field.
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