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Domestic Violence: Speaking

Speaking with a Victim of Domestic Violence
When speaking to an adult victim, you will know about the victimization in advance, suspect it, or have no indication but during the interview information to the contrary is revealed.

These are each very different situations requiring separate approaches.

When domestic violence is suspected or known, interview the adult victim first. Do not ask about the abuse in the presence of the perpetrator. This could force her into a compromising position that may increase the risk of harm for both the abused parent and children. Hold the interview in a safe, private, and comfortable setting. Affirm to the victim she does not deserve to be abused and that the abuse is not her fault. Express concerns for her safety and the safety of her children.

Here are some tips for interviews with victims of domestic violence:

  • Do not pressure victims to disclose anything about intimate partner violence. Adult victims may be reluctant to talk with you because of fear of losing their children and/or of being punished by the batterer. Begin with more general questions then follow up with more specific and detailed ones. Ask about other issues before asking about domestic violence.

  • When victims first disclose domestic violence, they are often not prepared to leave their abusers and many victims never choose to leave. It is particularly important to avoid isolating the victim further by blaming her or getting angry with her. It is critical to increase her sense of autonomy and to restore the control that the abuse has stripped from her.

  • If a parent reveals that she is a victim of domestic violence during your interview, it is important to provide the victimized parent with information about how to access and link to a domestic violence advocate if she so desires. A domestic violence advocate will be able to speak confidentially with the victimized parent and assist her in safety planning, processing what is happening to her, and exploring her options.

Speaking with Children
Broaching the subject of domestic violence with children is never easy.

An unusual element of co-occurrence cases is how the information acquired and subsequently used from children can directly relate to the safety and well-being of their battered parent. Information revealed by a child regarding intimate partner violence must be shared very carefully to reduce placing the child or victimized parent at further risk of harm or jeopardize any progress that has been made in a case thus far. Here are some tips for interviews with children coming from homes where there has been domestic violence:

  • If there is more than one child in a family, speak to the children separately as each may have a different reaction and experience related to the domestic violence.

  • Beware that a child may take responsibility for the abuse or side with the perpetrator.

  • Reassure the children that the violence is not their fault nor is it the fault of the parent being hurt.

  • Try not to convey negative comments about the perpetrator, as kids often love him and they just want the violence to stop.

  • Find out if there are peers, friends, family members, or other adults that the child can speak to if domestic violence happens again.

  • Tell the child what you will be sharing. Conversely, be careful what you share with the child about what you learned from their battered parent. A child may inform the batterer of this which can compromise the adult victim’s safety.

  • Support and reinforce the children’s closeness to their abused parent.

Speaking with a Battering Partner
If you speak with the battering partner do not ask about his use of violence in front of his partner. Never relay what the adult victim or children have told you about the violence. If you mention domestic violence, use corroborating reports such as police, neighbors and medical records to back up the statements.

Do not reveal any information about the adult or child’s safety plan. Similar to the interview conducted with the victim, ask about other issues before inquiring about domestic violence. Begin with more general questions then follow up with more specific and detailed ones.

Consider not interviewing the alleged perpetrator if it poses a substantial risk to the adult victim or child, or yourself.

The battering partner may not be the biological parent of the children who are the subject of the abuse/neglect accusations. In that situation, a court may have difficulty holding him accountable for his battering through the child abuse and neglect case, especially if the domestic violence was unrelated to the reasons a petition was filed by the Department of Children and Family Services (or equivalent). However, he still can remain a part of the family’s life and attention should be paid to what he is doing.


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