Domestic Violence Social Worker Job Description
A social worker in the field of domestic violence offers support and guidance when an person’s safety is threatened in the home.
Every year, hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of women are physically beaten by their spouses (the violence is usually based on gender, as 95% of domestic violence offenses involve male aggressors and female victims). And while many acts of domestic violence are reported to the police and the perpetrator has charges brought against him, the majority of domestic violence crimes are not reported and not prosecuted, and the woman being battered remains at risk.
Domestic violence social workers devote their career to providing safety for battered women. The ultimate mission of a domestic abuse social worker is to provide women who have been abused with the opportunity to build a better life. Social workers provide these opportunities by arranging physical and mental health services, housing for those with nowhere to stay, and employment opportunities for those who are economically disadvantaged.
Before we talk about the duties of a domestic violence social worker, it is vital to first address some important issues:
“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?”
When people learn that a woman is victim of domestic abuse, the first question they ask is, “Why didn’t she just leave?” When someone asks that question, they are often unaware of the factors that keep a woman locked in an abusive relationship.
Fear for Her Safety and Her Children’s Safety
Spousal abusers are not violent 100% of the time, but when they are, their violence is often accompanied by a message that is either implicit or spoken aloud: “If you ever run away from me, I will find you and I will hurt you.” If there are children involved, they may become part of the threat: “If you take my children away, I will find you and hurt you and hurt them.” Many women who undergo such abuse are absolutely terrified of leaving, and believe that it is safer to stay than to leave.
That does not mean, however, that they will seem helpless or weak. Some women who are victims of domestic violence fight back, and some do not; some appear in public to be frightened and meek, while others will appear casual and normal and you would never suspect that there is violence in the home. What is common to many women in abusive relationships is the overwhelming fear of being stalked or chased by their abuser and harmed.
Manipulation by the Abuser
There is a perception that men who abuse their wives or girlfriends are cruel individuals with very few social skills. However, the opposite is frequently true: many men who abuse the women they are involved with have a high social intelligence, and are very good at manipulating those around them. They are often charming and appealing, and may even appear charming to those who offer support to the victim.
Very often, a woman in an abusive home will have been influenced by her abuser, over the course of many months or years, to see herself as unworthy, unlovable, or unfit to be in another relationship.
Very often, a man who abusing his wife or girlfriend will create a situation wherein the woman has very little financial control. He may disallow her from saving money, or keep her from developing her professional skills. In such cases, a battered spouse will not have the economic means to leave an abusive relationship.
In many cases, however, the abuser has not created any such arrangement to keep the woman from leaving, and it is simply the facts of the victim’s economic situation that keep her tied to an abusive spouse. The money required to begin a new life—rent for an apartment, car insurance, car payment, gasoline, childcare, food—can be astronomically high. For many women, leaving and starting anew is simply not an option, and they are stuck.
It is important to add, however, that even if a woman suffering from domestic abuse does have a job, she is still at an economic disadvantage. In our culture, a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work. For example, a man doing “Job A” may make $50,000 a year, while a woman doing “Job A”—the same exact job—will be paid $40,000 a year. It needs to be noted that the financial elements that trap a woman in an abusive environment are often made worse when women receive lower wages than men for the same work, as well as an increased expectation to take responsibility and pay for all issues related to child care.
Now that some important ideas regarding domestic violence have been addressed, let’s take a look at a part of the social worker job description and the tasks that a social worker in the field of domestic violence will handle.
Domestic Violence Risk Assessment
One of the primary tasks of a social worker at a domestic violence agency is to provide risk assessment. A risk assessment includes questions such as “Has your partner threatened you physically?” and “Does your partner purposefully embarrass you in front of others?” Women who receive high scores on a risk assessment are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence, and can use the knowledge from the screening to make decisions about their lives and their relationships.
Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention
One of the most important ways that a domestic violence social worker can help a battered spouse is through crisis intervention.
When a woman is in immediate danger—or, as is often the case, when a woman and her children are in immediate danger—a domestic violence social worker may arrange for a crisis intervention. A domestic violence social worker implementing a crisis intervention will bring the abused woman to a domestic violence shelter, where she can be safe from her abuser. The location will provide temporary housing, food, and childcare, and can also refer the victim to community resources to help with legal issues, counseling, services for the children, employment programs, and financial assistance. When necessary, a domestic violence social worker will help the victim obtain a restraining order to her keep safe.
Domestic Violence Counseling
A woman in an abusive relationship has often experienced a highly traumatic situation, and in many cases, many traumatic situations that occurred over and over again. Very often, the abusive is coupled with a long-term emotional manipulation that has led the woman to believe that the abuse was, somehow, her fault. A primary objective of a domestic violence social worker is to work through the trauma of being physically assaulted, and also to work through any symptoms post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that may occur because of the physical abuse. An Orange County therapist is often involved in domestic violence therapy.
Care for Children Involved in Abuse
Many of the men who abuse their spouses also abuse their children. But even if the children remain untouched, simply witnessing domestic violence has damaging effects on the child. Studies have shown that children who witness domestic violence have been seen to exhibit more aggressive and anti-social behavior, and display less social competence around children their age.
For children who have suffered or witnessed physical abuse, counseling is an important part of the healing process. Domestic violence workers use a variety of techniques to help children understand and move past their experiences, including play therapy and art therapy. This is often part of the job of a child psychologist Orange County.
Domestic violence social workers spend their careers protecting women and children from the people who would physically harm them, but another critically important aspect of their work—one that often gets overlooked—is dedicated to public awareness.
Many women who are mistreated in the home are not aware that there are services available to them. When they learn that they have support in the community and a place they can safely escape to, they realize that another life is possible. That knowledge—that there is somewhere to go, with people who will support them—is often the factor that makes a victimized woman decide to leave. It is vitally important.
Domestic violence social workers act not only as guardians to those who are victimized, but they also play an important role as educators. They travel and give presentations to local organizations and women’s groups, and network with other social workers to make sure that people in their area are aware of their services.
Shelters that offer screening services, where a woman is given a questionnaire to see if she is at risk of physical abuse, help prevent domestic violence by informing women of relationships that may become abusive. However, there is another important factor to prevention, which many social workers believe is not discussed often enough: prevention efforts aimed at young men and adolescents.
There is research that shows that young men who are exposed to violence in the home are more likely to repeat the behavior in their own households as adults. For these children and young adults, education on how to properly act with others is an important step to assuring that the behavior is not repeated in their own relationships.
Rehabilitation of the Abuser
In such cases where an abuser seeks rehabilitation, or is mandated by an authority to seek rehabilitation, a domestic violence social worker will arrange for services to him help discontinue his aggressive behavior. Rehabilitation for the abuser may include counseling sessions or support groups. When there are related issues that may influence the behavior, such as a substance abuse, a domestic violence social worker will arrange for services to treat the related issue.
Places of Employment and Degrees Required
Domestic violence social workers work in government agencies, nonprofit shelters, counseling and therapy agencies, and in private practice. Often, marriage counseling Orange County from a licensed professional is needed.
Case management positions are usually available for applicants with a bachelor’s in social work (BSW), and clinical and advanced positions are available for applicants with a master’s in social work (MSW) or a terminal degree such as an Orange County psychologist.
Final Thoughts on the domestic violence social worker
Make no mistake: domestic violence social work is very taxing. It can be disheartening to hear, day after day, how women in your community are mistreated, and to see how the children of violent relationships suffer because of the things they witness. And it is difficult to watch as so many women return to environments that are not healthy.
But when you work in the area of domestic violence, you take on the role of protector. You provide a safe haven for those who need it. You act as a guardian in a person’s time of need. What higher calling is there?
We watch movies about superheroes and imagine them in bright costumes as they fight make-believe villains, and it’s all very exciting. But here’s the truth: when you work as a domestic violence social worker, you are a superhero. You protect those who are victimized, and you contribute to their safety. You have created an undeniable good. People often have daydreams about saving someone from a dangerous situation, or being a hero to someone in need. When you are a domestic violence social worker, that is your job. And you do it every day.
If you are interested in work as a domestic abuse social worker, go to Google and enter a search for the name of your county and state plus “domestic abuse agency.” It will give you a list of agencies you can contact. YOU can make a difference, and there is someone out there who needs your help!