Victims of Domestic Violence and Front-Line Workers: A Helping Paradigm

By Peters, Scott W.; Trepal, Heather C. et al. | Michigan Journal of Counseling, Fall-Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Victims of Domestic Violence and Front-Line Workers: A Helping Paradigm


Peters, Scott W., Trepal, Heather C., de Vries, Sabina M., Day, Sally W., Leeth, Christopher, Michigan Journal of Counseling


Domestic violence is a national health problem and involves virtually every sector of society, regardless of ethnicity, social status, religion, sexual orientation, or gender (Caetano, Field, Ramisetty-Mikler, & McGrath, 2005; Durose, Harlow, & Lagen, 2005; Shaver, Lavendosky, Dubay, Basu, & Jenei, 2005). It may include physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual aspects (Carlson, 2005; Dutton, Kaltman, Goodman, Weinfurt, & Vankos, 2005; Sackett & Saunders, 1999). Annually, more than 1.3 million women and 800,000 men are victims of domestic violence (Tjaden & Thonnes, 2000). However, these statistics only reflect victims who self-reported; it has been suggested that the numbers of victims who do not report are far greater (Felson, Ackerman, & Gallagher, 2005; Fugate, Landis, Riorden, Naureckas, & Engel, 2005; Szinovacz & Egley, 1995).

Often, by the time victims present at counselors' offices, some time has passed since the precipitating domestic violence incident. Many of these clients have already encountered law enforcement and emergency room personnel. Research has indicated victims encounter health care providers and social workers with limited knowledge about domestic violence. Moreover, these professionals may express negative attitudes (e.g., viewing the victim as weak or at fault) towards victims (Shields, Baer, Leininger, Marlow, & DeKeyser, 1998). Thus, counselors may play an important role in educating professionals who are the first point of contact for many domestic violence victims.

This article briefly presents an overview of domestic violence. Next, a description of the role of front-line workers, specifically law enforcement and emergency room personnel will be discussed. Finally, a helping paradigm is recommended that counselors can use to work with front-line workers from a consultee-centered perspective.

Domestic Violence

Terms such as family violence, intimate partner violence, interpersonal violence, and spousal abuse have all been used when referring to domestic violence. "Domestic violence constitutes the willful intimidation, assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior perpetrated by one family member, household member, or intimate partner against another" (The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), (2008). For this article, we will use the NCVC definition when referring to domestic violence.

An essential feature of domestic violence is Walker's Cycle of Violence (COV), (1979). Walker identified a general pattern involving how domestic violence repeats within relationships. The COV is comprised of (a) the tension-building phase, (b) the acute battering incident, and (c) the honeymoon phase. During the tension-building phase, strain builds within the couple. There may be verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Once the tension reaches a crescendo, the acute battering incident occurs. Following the incident, the couple moves into the honeymoon phase. Abusers realize they have gone too far, apologize, and promise the battering will never happen again. Victims become drawn back into the relationship by abusers' sincere apology and behavior. The honeymoon phase fades, and the couple moves into the tension-building phase to begin the cycle again. The COV may help front-line workers to understand the reasons why victims may stay with abusive partners in spite of the dangers.

Those Impacted by Domestic Violence

Walker (1979) described battered women as those who are repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by men with the goal of controlling them without regard for women's personal rights. Battered women may include wives or those in any form of intimate relationships with men. While we recognize that this definition is limited to women, it is still one of the most insightful descriptions. This definition can be expanded to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) individuals, as well as men.

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