Information For Workers

Response to Disclosure

A positive approach

Be aware that you, whatever your role within your workplace, could be the first point of contact for a woman who is seeking help and support because of violence against women. Your role could be vital. Any woman can suffer gender-based violence; this means any of the women you encounter through your work, including your colleagues.

To support a woman:

  • Believe what she is saying and let her know you do. Be aware that your role places you in a position of power, which may make it difficult for a woman to talk to you about her situation.
  • Listen to what she is saying. Show that you are interested and concerned. Don’t collude in the effects of abuse by seeing her as less than you see yourself or other women.
  • Give her time to talk and don’t rush her to make decisions. Remember, many women feel they had no choices. Don’t put any pressure on her to do anything that she isn’t ready to do.
  • It is important to be aware of your own feelings when you are listening to or talking to a woman. You may feel shocked at some of the details. If you show you are distressed, horrified or disgusted by what a woman tells you, it may put her off talking to you.
  • Be careful not to seem to pass judgment or blame the woman for her situation. Don’t ask her to justify her actions eg “Why on earth did you go back to him?”Accept that she will have had her reasons for making any such decision.
  • Ask her about her safety. Ask “Is it safe to go home?” Help her to look at what she might be able to do to feel safer. She might want to look at planning for an emergency by gathering information and preparing for a time when she may feel the need to get help.
  • Take her fears seriously – remember she knows her situation better than you do.
  • Let her know in advance if you will be unable to keep what she tells you in confidence.
  • Respect her autonomy and her decisions. Don’t make assumptions about what she might want or need. Put aside your own feelings when you believe she is making choices that are not in her interest or that you disagree with.
  • Check whether it is safe to contact her at her home address. If not, identify a way of communicating with her that will not endanger her.
  • Encourage her to recognise and build on her strengths. Remember that gender-based violence is damaging to women’s self esteem and sense of self worth. This is likely to make it difficult for her to recognise the potential she has to make changes for herself and her children.
  • Do not make promises or raise expectations that you cannot deliver. There will be limits to what you can and can’t do and how much time you have. Do not try to offer information that you are not sure of eg legal issues. Where possible, assist the woman to access information for herself. If this is not possible or appropriate, offer to find out information for her.
  • Tell her that she has rights and that everyone has the right to safety and respect. No-one has the right to abuse another person.
  • If the woman does not want to get further help, then it is important that you respect this. There are many reasons why a woman might stay in an abusive relationship. Click here for Why do women stay?
  • She may not be ready to take any actions or make decisions at the moment, but she will need to know that someone will be there to support her when she does feel able to make choices.
  • Don’t be tempted to take over and do everything for her – she needs to be able to take control of her own situation.
  • No matter how many times you talk to her, always offer her the same respect and support.

Why Do Women Stay?

A woman might stay in an abusive relationship because she:

  • wants the relationship to work and hopes her partner will change and the abuse will end
  • still loves the man – it’s the abuse she doesn’t want
  • feels it’s her duty to help the man overcome his violence
  • feels guilty, embarrassed or responsible for the abuse
  • has low self esteem and self confidence as a result of the abuse
  • wants to keep the family together for the children’s sake
  • is worried about coping on her own
  • wants to stay in her own community
  • fears she (and her children) may have to uproot and leave the area
  • is worried about what kind of home/neighbourhood she will end up in
  • fears her partner will take revenge if she leaves
  • doesn’t know what options are available to her
  • services may be inappropriate and inaccessible
  • is convinced he will find her wherever she goes
  • is concerned she won’t be able to keep her children
  • may have strong cultural or religious pressures to keep the family together
  • doesn’t have supportive friends or relatives, perhaps as a result of the abuser’s strategies to isolate her
  • has a drug or alcohol addiction and thinks it may be difficult to find a support organisation who can help her
  • has no financial independence so the cost of getting away might be prohibitive
  • is a disabled woman and may have to find the cost of a carer
  • may be being kept prisoner in her own home
  • believes it may be the safest option available to her and her children

Abuse is not a problem the victim can correct.
It is a problem that only the abuser can fix…
Or that society can work to protect the victim from.

Fear of a punitive Social Work response may prevent women from seeking help for themselves and their children when they most need it and so place themselves at risk.

A woman cannot protect her child if she is not protected, but if she asks for protection for herself, her child(ren) may be removed. A non women-blaming attitude is undoubtedly one of the most effective tools you can equip yourself with when supporting Children & Young People who have experienced Domestic Abuse.

Mothers may be reluctant to admit the abuse of children has occurred due to:

  • fear that her children will be taken from her, regardless of who did the abusing.
  • fear of repercussions from the abuser
  • fear of being seen as having failed as a parent
  • fear of being unable to retrieve the relationship

White Ribbon Campaign

Violence against Women

If it were between countries, we’d call it a war.
If it were a disease, we’d call it an epidemic.
If it were an oil spill, we’d call it a disaster.
But it is happening to women, and it’s just an everyday affair.
It is violence against women.

It is sexual harassment at work and sexual abuse of the young.
It is the beating or the blow
that millions of women suffer each and every day.
It is rape at home or on a date.
It is murder.

There’s no secret enemy pulling the trigger.
No unseen virus that leads to death.
It is only men.
Not all men, but far too many men …………..
………… and just who are these men?

Just regular guys.
Men from all social backgrounds and of all colours and ages.
Rich men and poor men,
men who toil in the fields
and men who sit behind desks.

Michael Kaufman- Founder Member of The White Ribbon Campaign

The WRC is the largest effort in the world of men working to end men’s violence against women. In 1991, a handful of men in Canada decided they had a responsibility to urge men to speak out against violence against women. They decided that wearing a white ribbon would be a symbol of men’s opposition to men’s violence against women. After only six weeks preparation, as many as 100,000 men across Canada wore a white ribbon. Many others were drawn into discussion and debate on the issue of men’s violence.

For more information about the campaign in Scotland see:

Response to Children & Young People (CYP)

Self-esteem is a powerful human need. It is a basic human need that makes an essential contribution to the life process, it is indispensable to normal and healthy development: it has survival value.

Dr Nathaniel Branden


The language we use when talking to children and young people (CYP) can have a huge impact on how they relate to us as individuals and to other adults.

Our use of inappropriate language in the context of supposedly supporting the needs of CYP can never be justified.

As the adult in the room, our need to get our point across should not be at the expense of a CYP’s self worth.

At times we are ALL guilty of using negative phraseology when talking to CYP and we should consider the power of our words eg “the trouble with you is…” or “you’re wasting everyone’s time…”

Traumatic life experiences aren’t the only factor in determining effects on a CYP’s mental health – the way we support CYP through their experiences plays a substantial role in the consequential future outcome.

An encouraging adult An inhibiting adult
allows time is inattentive
values creative ideas is authoritarian
encourages play is pessimistic
uses open-ended questions promotes dependence
sees learning in mistakes is critical
is available for help is disapproving
deals as an equal acts as superior
speculates along with makes fun of
follows child’s interests predetermines response
accepts child’s decisions rejects new ideas
focuses on child’s thinking imposes decisions
defers judgement limits time
stresses independence maintains fixed routines
is optimistic about outcomes devalues suggestions
actively listens domineers
shows real interest interrupts
assumes it can be done is impatient
shares the risks cross examines
challenges the child to try ideas gives no feedback
is available lacks interest

Domestic Abuse and Confidentiality

Refer also to your own policies and procedures.

Confidentiality is an important part of most people’s work. However, where domestic abuse is concerned, staff need to be particularly cautious. The following precautions should be standard practice for all staff working with domestic abuse:

  • Any notes taken during an interview and any information the woman offers must be kept confidential.
  • Check whether or not it is safe to send her correspondence to her home address. If not, make alternative arrangements.
  • Records, written and electronic, should be clearly marked to ensure her whereabouts remain confidential.
  • Talk to the woman and find out her views on whether or not she wants contact with anyone, eg family members, other agencies. Discuss whether she wants messages and correspondence passed on or not.
  • Permission should be obtained if contact is to be made with any other person or agency.
  • If you get a request for information from another agency such as the police or other services, always take a name and telephone number and phone them back to check the call is genuine. Many agencies still operate via a switchboard. Information should be shared on a need to know basis only.
  • You should only pass on information about an address if the woman has given clear consent in writing. (Except in cases which involve child protection issues.)
  • Don’t accept or agree to pass on messages, letters or gifts unless the woman has explicitly requested this. By agreeing to take a message or letter, you are letting the man know you know how to make contact with the woman, putting the woman, yourself and other staff at risk.
  • Remember that abusers can be extremely ingenious in finding ways to elicit information.
  • Keep clear records of all attempts by anyone to trace the woman, and the reasons given. This may be important if there is an assault and evidence is needed against the perpetrator.
  • The sharing of anonymised information between domestic abuse service providers is of great importance in identifying gaps in service provision.

It is important to stress that barriers faced by marginalised groups of women are related to oppression in society and do not lie with the women themselves.

Issues faced by marginalised groups may include:

  • racism
  • disability discrimination
  • ageism
  • homophobia
  • class issues
  • stereotyping

Additional issues faced by black or ethnic minority women may include:

  • racial harassment
  • discriminatory employment practices
  • prejudice/stereotyping (eg the compliant Asian woman, the strong Afro-Caribbean woman, abuse being more acceptable in some communities, confusion between arranged and forced marriages and the former being seen as more oppressive than other marriages)
  • a feeling of responsibility to protect a community which is already subject to racism as well as wanting to avoid reinforcing stereotypes of black men as being violent and dangerous
  • visibility in white communities
  • the complexity of immigration legislation (eg threats of deportation, lack of access to benefits or housing)
  • poverty

Additional issues faced by disabled women may include:

  • regularly experiencing discrimination/oppression
  • threats from carers in their own home/residential establishments (eg withdrawal of care, losing the children)
  • labelling
  • isolation
  • lack of access to support/information
  • lack of practical access to facilities
  • organisational and structural barriers – rules and regulations that create increased difficulty or are not interpreted correctly or not understood by staff
  • not being perceived as “credible witnesses”(eg because of communication or learning difficulties or mental illness) and, thus, the difficulties of acquiring protection through the criminal justice system
  • effects of abuse (eg anxiety, depression) being interpreted as signs of mental illness
  • attitudes, skills and knowledge of workers
  • financial (eg higher cost of living experienced by many disabled people; for those with a care package met by local budgets, limits options for women seeking refuge)

Additional issues faced by older women may include:

  • assumptions/ageist attitudes (eg her partner being too old/frail to abuse her, the women herself being too old to abuse)
  • difficulty in disclosing abuse to family members (eg pressure to hold the family together, to be a nurturing role model, to offer stability)
  • abuse may be taking place within a residential establishment or may be from sons, lodgers, nephews

Additional issues faced by lesbians may include:

  • homophobic attitudes
  • collusion (eg by family members/relatives) to force them to deny their sexuality
  • some lesbians who are married are abused by husbands and ex-partners
  • fear of their sexuality being used against them if abuse is reported
  • fear of losing their children
  • difficulty of asking for assistance (eg because of previous experience or negative or unhelpful responses from agencies)
  • the threat of exposure and possible consequences (losing job/ friends, abuse from the community)

Additional issues faced by working class women may include:

  • lack of access to employment and educational attitudes
  • lower expectations of working class women by some agency staff (eg in relation to parenting skills and their ability to manage money)
  • poverty
  • childcare
  • poor housing
  • health issues

Additional issues faced by women living in rural areas may include:

  • lack of access to services
  • lack of information about what is available
  • increased social and family pressures to stay within a marriage
  • social attitudes of close rural communities to domestic abuse
  • confidentiality issues within small communities
  • limited public and private transport
  • difficulty contacting or visiting service providers
  • increased risk to safety from high visibility in community, lack of neighbours, delayed police response
  • weapons on farms and estates
  • attachment to the area and way of life

Additional issues faced by Gypsy Traveller women may include:

  • access to appropriate information
  • accessing appropriate accommodation
  • when leaving a partner, a woman leaves her whole community
  • if a woman leaves she may jeopardise the marriage prospects of her daughters
  • they may view their emotional needs as less important due to other pressures in their lives
  • lack of access to a phone
  • lack of cultural awareness of service providers and hence offering inappropriate and inaccessible services

Additional issues faced by women working as prostitutes may include:

  • men who exploit and abuse them to recruit them into prostitution (eg through forced drug addiction and violence)
  • financial pressures
  • a lack of family support
  • a history of ill-treatment and abuse
  • fear of her children being taken into care
  • attitudes of workers

Practical Issues

Be aware that the woman may not always be able to talk openly, which may result in her giving inconsistent or varying accounts of her situation on different occasions when she may be in contact with you. Give her the choice of having a female member of staff carry out the interview. Always check how much time she has and whether she has other commitments, eg children to pick up from school.

Be clear about what you need to know from her, and let her know that she doesn’t have to talk to you about the abuse if she doesn’t want to discuss it.

Interviews should be in private, although you might want to offer her the option of having a supporter in with her. If her partner (or another family member) is with her, or if she sees people she knows at your offices, then she may not feel able to explain her situation safely.

Welcome children who accompany their mother and acknowledge them. However, it is often difficult for women to talk about their experiences with children present so, if possible, try to provide somewhere else for any children to play safely while you are talking with their mother. Make sure they are comfortable, have access to juice, a toilet, etc. Don’t use children as interpreters in the interview.

If using an interpreter, make sure it’s an independent interpreter from the interpreting services (not a member of the family/ also check that the woman feels comfortable with the interpreter). If this is not possible, organise an interpreter for her next visit. Alternatively, have written materials available in the woman’s language. Never attempt to contact the abuser to verify the woman’s story. This also applies to young people.

Safety Planning

A safety plan needs to reflect each individual’s specific circumstances.

Remember to discuss any risks associated with the safety plan, e.g. Where will she keep emergency numbers so that the abuser won’t find them? What if he finds out she is intending to leave?

Your role is to support/work with the woman to develop her own safety plan – not to construct one for her. Empowerment is part of the process.

Safety planning is not a one-off process. The safety plan will change as her situation changes.

Crucial questions to address include:

  • What does she need to be safe?
  • What has she considered or done in the past to keep safe?
  • What’s worked in the past?
  • What hasn’t worked?
  • Does she have friends or family she can stay with?
  • Would she consider going to a refuge?
  • What is her financial situation?
  • Does she have access to transport?
  • Does she have someone she can trust, friend or agency, to store a set of clothing or small amount of money for her?
  • Has she considered calling Women’s Aid for support and information?

In almost every situation, children are aware of the abuse. Children want to be told what’s happening. Generally it is important that the woman talks to the children and explains the situation. However, the woman should decide how much information it is safe to give.

Your Safety

Abusive men often pursue women who have left them and they may attempt to gain information about a woman’s whereabouts from a professional.

If you are working with a woman who is fleeing from an abusive man, make sure that you follow the relevant guidelines on staff safety for working in potentially violent situations.

If you have any concern about your personal safety, raise them with your supervisor.

Taking Care of Yourself

Consider the following

When I feel responsible for others: When I feel responsible toothers:
I fix I show empathy
I protect I encourage
I rescue I share
I control I confront
I carry their feelings I level
I don’t listen I am sensitive
I listen
As a result I feel:
tired relaxed
anxious free
fearful aware
liable high self-esteem
And I become concerned with:
the solution and answers relating person to person
circumstances and details feelings
being right and my performance the person
Because I have manipulated: I believe if I just share myself the other person has enough to make it and:
I expect the other person to live up to my expectations I am a helper /guide
I expect the person to be responsible for herself and her own actions
I can trust and let go