After the Webinar: Mindfulness in Domestic Violence Work. Q&A with Sara Mahoney

Webinar presenter Sara Mahoney answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Mindfulness in Domestic Violence Work: Part 2- Working with Offenders.   Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Do you ask your clients to complete the adverse childhood experiences survey during intake and if so, how did those results impact your supervision on the offender? 

Sara Mahoney: We actually just, within the last several months, our director has talked about how it will be beneficial for all of us to start doing the ACE. Basically, everybody that comes to our department, juvenile or adults. I do do them, I admit sometimes I get caught up in the all the other paperwork that I have to do much like everybody else and I may miss it in the very beginning but I always get back to it. I actually have found that those ACE scores are really quite significant on the ones I’ve done so far. A lot of them kind of average out around like a 3 or a 4 but my co-worker is actually just telling me about one she did the other day on a female offender whose ACE score was a 9. I mean, that’s the highest is a 10, it’s an indication of how much trauma this woman has experienced in her life. That is interesting to really take a step back and look at how that has for a female in particular, how that has transpired into her pathway into the criminal justice system. So, the ACE is really beneficial for any offender, male or female, but the males tend to score pretty high too. For me personally and maybe because I’m a female, females that do the ACE or females that I interview open up pretty easily about the stuff that they experienced. But for men, I feel like, some of them, a lot of them you really have to build a rapport with them. That’s why you know thinking along these lines of really trying to believe that they do have trauma, they have had trauma and that for a lot of them its significant. I guess how men and woman are socialized like manner of boys are taught not to talk about this stuff and you know yes we’re getting better at that but I lived in a really rural county with the whole boys will be boys mentality and big boys don’t cry. If I have to spend time building a rapport with a lot of these guys that I work with to get them to even talk me about the trauma that they’ve experienced. So, I bet they’re under-reporting the ACE score and that will be my suspicion, my speculation.

This is such hard work, we have to be diligent remembering that every person is different even if they acted that is committed might be the same as on another case. To remind myself daily to be mindful in this hardwork.



Audience Question: Have you seen links between potentially traumatic experiences and animal abuse? 

Sara Mahoney: I haven’t seen a lot, of like animal abuse cases come my way. I can think 2 off hand where I work with both offenders historically and both of them were arrested for cruelty to animals, they starve their dogs and one of the guys he got like killed the dog because it wasn’t able to get the nourishment that it needed. On the other guy, the dog ended up being taken in by the ASPCA and was nursed back to health but has took really a long time to deal. With those two guys in particular because I know those cases I can say yes in those two cases there was a substantial link between trauma and animal abuse. But I will say with one of those guys, I think I believe he was diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder, and I saw a lot of really scary like sociopathic stuff in him like the stuff you see on discovery ID. It just like it makes your hair stand up at the back of your neck and he just did some very sadistic things to his partner. I don’t know if it can all be linked to trauma because I do think that there are just some people that are bad people, unfortunately, and they’re never going to change for whatever reason that may be. Whether it’s their incapable or they just don’t want to or whatever I’m not a psychologist. I think one of those cases that was a way for him too, that was a control tactic and a way to remind his family and law enforcement and anybody else that have anything to do with him that this was what he’s willing to do and that I think is just a lost soul.


Aaron: To your point, the National Sheriffs Association release reports several months ago talking about the link of animal abuse and domestic violence and other forms of violence. In fact, a lot of times, as you said, it is used as a tool of control. They’re starting to train animal control officers that if you get a call for animal abuse, keep an eye out and look at what’s going on in the family and consider reporting what you’re seeing to law enforcement because of those links.



Audience Question: Have you seen a match on the link between domestic violence and sex offenders? 

Sara Mahoney: My co-worker and I, we talked about how similar our sex offenders are to our DV offenders here in this department. We’re lucky that our domestic violence program and sex offender program are run in-house. I facilitate our DV program and she used to facilitate the sex offender program. We have a lot of offenders that their sex offenses are probably more linked to like DV, power and control, coercive control, type of behavior than like just sexually offending behavior. And they groom similarly I think, they have very calculative ways of getting their partners to trust them, they make them feel good in the beginning, they seem very trustworthy and helpful and sweet and kind and then they flip the switch once they got them where they want them. I think that is a similarity with sex offenders because sex offenders groom their victim so that they trust them. They have to build that tie that links to them and that rapport with them so that they are able to carry out what it is they intend to do but we have several offenders that are dual offenders that their sex offenses were more based in domestic violence than just regular sex offending behavior.



Audience Question: On one of your slides, you described some of the common reasons behind an offender committing domestic violence, are these the most common motivations or just a few of the ones that you’ve been exposed to? 

Sara Mahoney: I typically go by what I’ve experienced personally but there is research out there that do support those same characteristics. That there is trust issues, jealousy issues and offenders are very manipulative, I think you could pretty much find the characteristics of DV offenders and that will be a pretty similar list.



Audience Question: For orders of protection for victims, putting offenders to stay away not just from the victim and children but also the family pets.

Sara Mahoney: Yeah, New York state extended that ability for family pets to be put on orders of protection now. Some places still don’t do it. Other places are really recognizing that link to animal abuse and the length that some offenders will go to just to keep that victim near or with them. When they perceive that loss of control that’s when things really start happening. In here, we’ve had victims say that they will not go into a shelter because of their pets. People with pet horses, farm animals. It’s not just like dogs and cats. Even dogs and cats are not allowed in shelters. We don’t have very many programs that will foster or house pets short-term to protect them from DV offenders.



Audience Question: What do you do for self-care, how do you kind of maintain that emotional stability given the things you’ve experienced with some of your clients? 

Sara Mahoney: I have an exceptional group of people that I do not just consider my co-workers, I consider many of them as my friends. There is a smaller group within that group of us that are very tight and we all grew up in this area, we were born and raised in this area and there are the ones that I go to a lot of time. I also have a very supportive family and I try for myself every day to take a step back. I didn’t use to do that, I use to take my work home with me all the time and my husband is a deputy sergeant in the sheriff’s office so, you can imagine both of us working with the same population day in and day out and taking our work home with us on a day to day basis for a long time in our relationship. Then we had our daughter and its just you know, for a lot of us, once we have kids we go to keep ourselves in check about that and take care of ourselves. I try to just at the end of every day I try to do a run through and I always go through and if I can say that at the end of every day I did everything possible that I could have done and I feel good about those decisions, then I’m good with that, I can go home at night and I can enjoy my family and I can enjoy my 50 acres of land and my big pond and my chickens and my dog and my cat and our kitten and I can go for a four-wheel drive or go for a walk or read my kindle or do my homework because I’m in grad school. I should have to do that first, but I can do all that and I can feel good knowing that I don’t have any regrets about how I did that day and that is a very important thing for me to take a step back and do, so that I don’t take my work home with me. You have to be able to rely on somebody whether they are at work or at home or wherever, your church, your gym, whatever. You have to have somebody in this line of work that if you just need a minute to scream, cry, whatever and work it out, then you need to do that. We’re human just like anybody else, at the end of the day and in a lot of times our systems expect us to be superheroes and we expect us to be superheroes, and our clients expect us to be superheroes. The pressure really can bog us down and we have to make sure that we have somebody that we can rely on and talk to and be able to throw things off of and brainstorm. And then that’s when I kind of step back and I’m like okay let me just kind of take a look at today and the big ones. I feel 90% of the time I feel good about what was presented to me during the day and how I handled that, you know I think that’s another important thing about self-care, you have to be confident in your work. If you’re not confident in your work and you’re not confident in yourself that’s where you going to start to get the cracks and the pressure’s going to get to you. I know that I am really good at what I do and I tell myself every day and maybe that sounds conceited or whatever, but hey it works for me. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and my boss and my co-workers have a lot of confidence in my abilities so that helps tremendously.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Mindfulness in Domestic Violence Work: Part 2- Working with Offenders


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