Domestic  (or "intimate partner") violence

We have relatively little on this site so far on the issues that arise in tackling domestic violence - although the original guidance documents that first launched the concept of a Psychologically Informed Environment in homelessness work was quite clear that the same thinking could be found, and could certainly be consciously applied, in the context of a refuge.

What we do have here are two radically differing views.


GDASS - target hardening, a strengths model, and a dispersed peer-support community

In a presentation on the development of Gloucester Domestic Abuse Support Service, Sally Morrisey outlines the thinking behind NOT having refuges as the first line of response.   Instead of their previous reliance on refuges, as a response to safety concerns, the new model here implements what is, in psychological terms, a strengths model; and what is known in criminal justice terms as a 'target hardening' approach.

The focus of this website, and of the community of practice here, is on homelessness, and refuges are therefore part of our range. So the approach of 'target hardening', that people do NOT need to leave their own home is, you might think, at the boundary of our "sphere'. But it is a social environment that is created here. Since the central issue is the need to recognise and respond creatively, in the environments we create, to the underlying psychological and emotional issues, the strengths model is absolutely relevant; and this is one expression.  

At the time of this presentation, the remodelled service was too new to have useful statistics on the number of woman who had passed through the services, and remained now as volunteers. What Morrisey could say at this stage, however, was that informal peer support, alongside the organised groups, seemed very effective and valued - but hard to capture in data.  But in short, at the time of presentation this service was  maturing into a community support model, and not simply a series of individuals supports; and re-establishing a lost social life is central to recovery. This is a psychologically informed social environment, deliberately doing without a specialist building.


Violence as addiction

In compete contrast, we have an article by Erin Pizzey, the founder and prime mover of Chiswick Women's Aid, the first ever refuge for women escaping domestic violence, which will doubtless be controversial. Pizzey herself is not afraid to be bold and even provocative; and the story that she describes here, of the founding of the refuge for women escaping domestic violence, is certainly that. But it was her forthright views on women's own capacity for violence that shocked the emerging Women's Movement of the 1970s.

As is suggested in the video interview that accompanies this paper - in fact the first of three, in which she recounts her experiences and views - a far greater frankness over mental health, and in particular a much better recognition of the roots of highly disturbed relationships and behaviour in trauma, makes these ideas only a little less shocking. In some quarters Pizzey's view will doubtless till seem beyond the pale.  But Pizzey's insights are derived entirely from her own experience, and may nevertheless shed some light on what actually seems to happen "in the swamp" (as  an excerpt from the editorial to that issue of the journal suggests). 

The distinction Pizzey makes between those women who are truly victims of a partner's violence, and those who are actively attracted to violence, will appall some, and will for some seem to replicate views on the 'deserving' and 'un-deserving'; but that is clearly not her intention at all. What she describes might instead be seen as a kind of triage, in which all are treated with respect, welcome and protection; but by which some are seen to need more - which her longer-term, more chaotic communities than aim to provide.

Chiswick Women's Aid was, incidentally, also very much a dispersed, peer support community.


Therapy, chaos and containment

Beyond this storm, however, the suggestion that there may be a therapeutic value in chaos - and that for some, a degree of chaos can even be a necessity, to enable them to engage effectively -  may prove equally controversial, equally at odds with the prevailing culture of service provision, which prefers carefully planned, tested and professionally controlled interventions. 

What is then intriguing, with hindsight, is the similarity between her observations and those of many who, both around the same time, and later, were writing about the experiences of living or working in a therapeutic community for patients with a personality disorder. See Recognising Complexity, the Dept Health report, for examples of other communities. 







Further reading

Supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse: Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Service: Sally Morrissey  (presentation at Chartered Institute for Housing conference, Torbay, 2016) 

also: "The sheer irrationality of controlling violence" Helen Keats (in prep)

Marinated in violence: therapeutic intervention for victims of domestic abuse: Erin Pizzey (see also accompanying interview, on video)

Reflections on Marinated in Violence' video interview with Erin Pizzey that accompanies this paper 

Housing Care & Support Editorial comment on 'Marinated in violence' Robin Johnson 

Recognising complexity: Dept of Health summary of the learning from PD pilot services (several authors)


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