Webinar presenter Sara Mahoney answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Mindfulness in Domestic Violence Work: Part 1 Working with Victims. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: How do you advise assisting clients with navigating systems that are not mindful, such as working with judges or other agencies that utilize non-mindful language and behaviors?
Sara Mahoney: That’s an internal battle that I deal with every day. Because I don’t live in a county where work within a number of systems myself that think along the same lines that I do. I had to have those conversations. It’s not about bad mouthing those other systems because obviously you don’t want to burn bridges and I have great relationships with our county court judges. I have good relationships with a bunch of our village and town judges and the attorneys and even law enforcement. I think the best way that I have been able to try to navigate that, is I let the victim voice those concerns and irritations, and then I try to offer up different points of view for even the victim so that maybe they can navigate that situation better. There’s always, I don’t want to say negativity, between victims and especially like a social services child protective workers and even with probation and parole where they sometimes make the judgment that just because they have their offender on my caseload that I’m automatically going to believe that the offender says and take their side so, part of that, I think in helping them navigate, if you can repeatedly show them that maybe not all systems are like that, but the one that’s working closest with them is like that or even you or me within that system is like that, then that can help change their perspective potentially and their point of view. We all know we can’t change how other people look at things or the choices that they make. But in navigating those other systems is offering up actual information. Not being afraid to assert yourself if you feel strongly about this levelity factor is concerned. If you have an ally in those systems that you can go to and say, “Look, this is my issue”, then you might be able to start changing some of those points of view, just being assertive and offering up actual information for them.
Audience Question: How do you advise your co-workers to be more mindful and use mindful language?
Sara Mahoney: My department is pretty small and they know that for me personally, I’m pretty vocal about this stuff and domestic violence in general. I tend to be a little bit more pushy with my co-workers but it’s all done out of love and pure affection for them. I have certain people in the department that you’re never going to change how they view it. But to bombard them with information and being assertive about it and really reinforcing – and a lot of it is repetitive. I have the same argument with the same colleagues about why we need to pay more attention to victims’ barriers instead of asking them why they didn’t leave. Trying to reinforce that there is a lot of reasons where they’re at and that our job isn’t to be judge, the jury and the executioner. Our job is to try to offer them information and make referrals and try to show them that not every system is like that and every person in like that within the system. I’ve had co-workers come to me and say, “Can you come talk to this victim?”, and that’s okay too. If you’re not that person some people, some personalities, just don’t jive. There are some victims that I don’t particularly like and continuing to try to build that rapport has been nothing but sinking a ship a billion times. At some point, it’s okay to just say, “It’s not me, I’m not helping this situation”, and ask somebody else if they can offer up some help because at the end of the day, we’re just human. We’re not going to like everybody and everybody is not going to like us. Especially if there are some transference issues and this is why it’s so important and I talk to my colleagues about this too. If you got some kind of beef with this particular person, you have to acknowledge that and if you can’t move on from that, then you need to pass it on. Whether it’s a victim or an offender or whoever, it’s really important to know your limits too.
Audience Question: Are there words or phrases that we might be able to use to replace the word “victim”?
Sara Mahoney: I just like using their name. I’ve heard some people say “survivor” and I think there is nothing wrong with that, but I’m pretty simple in that respect. I just want to call them their name. I’m not going to call them “Hon” or “Sweety” or “Dear” or anything like that because that can look condescending. Maybe those words have a negative connotation to them. Or even just asking them, “What would you like to be called?”, “What do you go by?”. For me, I have the police report, I know their first name and I call them and say “Hey, So and so this is Sara Mahoney and I’m from here and this is why I’m calling you and would you be willing to come and meet with me?” They’re people too and I think they spend so much of their life not being treated like a person. In a lot of these cases, at the end of the day, they just want to be looked at as a human being. That’s how I try to live up to that. They’re human, just like me and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and they deserve to be called whatever they want to go by.
Audience Question: We’ve hosted a number of webinars that are focused on the techniques, such as motivational interviewing, but they’re primarily focused on working with offenders. Do think the same MI Techniques might help in working with victims as well?
Sara Mahoney: Sure! I think that asking those leading open-ended questions to get more information and developing discrepancy is probably a great way to try to get victims to realize the potential severity of their situation. We all know that they don’t always view it as a life or death situation, like a lot of times it really is. If you can ask them and present situations to them that can get them thinking about why they’re still in the situation and what’s preventing them from moving forward. You ask them questions like that and you are putting the ball in their court, and you’re giving them choice and you are empowering them to make their own decisions and to make choices about their life and their situation that they might not have been able to do ever, or for a really long time. And to also be that support that they can come back to because change is scary. We have to remember that this is a lifetime of habits and attitudes and beliefs. I think a lot of times we put all the pressure and a lot of the pressure on the victims, In stalking cases, it’s up to them to prove that they are being stalked. In DV Cases we’re putting the responsibility of the abused on her by saying how come she doesn’t leave. and being able to just ask questions and try to get them to see where things could may be better for them. And how do they think would be a good way to start making those goals and achieving those goals is definitely going to get them to be more confident in be more able to make those decisions in their life.
Audience Question: When children are involved and you have a small window to make sure that they are safe and not exposed to more domestic violence, do you find it difficult to use mindful language when the victims won’t leave?
Sara Mahoney: I’m going to ask that with a question: How come the victim has to be the one to leave? Why can’t the offender leave? That’s how I would view that first. There again, we’re putting the onus on the victim in that situation and why is the expectation that the one who’s doing the abuse and the one who is putting that kids in that position as well as that victim, why are they are not being told that they have to leave. Why are we potentially ripping that victim and those children out of their home when they haven’t been the ones who do anything wrong. But on the flipside of that, sure, if the situation like that is hard to be mindful in use language as mindful, but I think that there’s still, even in a small window of time, there’s still an opportunity to say things in such a way that can be more, for lack of a better term, respectful. I really do believe that it could render more cooperation. These, unfortunately, are the choices right now, and this goes back to something have to be expedited and decisions have to be made. But if there’s a way to say or give those options in a way that’s going to offer choice to that victim, I really do believe that that’s one of those opportunities that gets lost frequently, especially when children come into the mix. That’s one thing that victims are constantly worried about, is that their kids are going to get taken from them and are going to get removed. I’ve never worked in child protective and I’m sure it’s a difficult job and I couldn’t do it, I know that about myself. But I really truly believe that there are ways that things can be said that can get more cooperation out of a victim and still be done in a way that they’re not going to feel like it’s the system is out to get them.
Christina: It certainly is a careful balance, isn’t it?
Sara Mahoney: That’s what makes our jobs so hard. These aren’t easy cases. If they were easy, we wouldn’t be having webinars about this stuff or training. These cases are extremely messy and they’re difficult and they’re very personal because this isn’t strangers. These are families and I think that’s probably one way that we can be most mindful in those situations is to keep in mind that this is still a family. At the end of the day, it’s not always bad abusive incident, that these are people that love each other, these are people that love each other, these are people that are going to say: “They are great mother or father”, “They are great with the kids”, and we have to keep that in mind. But we also have to balance safety precautions and unfortunately we have to make split decisions and I would say to this person, this is what I live by everyday, “If I can go home at the end of the day knowing that I did the best I can and I don’t regret anything about any of the calls I had to make and the decisions I have to make, then I’ve done what I can do and I can live with that.” People aren’t going to like the decisions all the time and that include victims. I’ve had victims get mad at me but when they’ve been able to get away from that relationship for good, those same victims have called me up and said: “I know I was mad at you then, but I just wanted to say thank you, you saved my life”, or “You helped me and my kids, that I didn’t want to hear it then and I needed to hear it”. It’s a tough job that we do but that’s definitely what I go by. If I can live with the decisions that I made and I feel good about it and I don’t have any guilt or regret then, I did the right thing.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Mindfulness in Domestic Violence Work: Part 1 Working with Victims.