• Claire Verney

Have They Really Separated?

DV-ACT experts are often asked about the vulnerability of mothers to domestic abuse and, in particular, their attachment to their abuser and the

likelihood of reconciliation. This post is designed as a guide for social work professionals to help them identify attachment and, therefore, respond to increased risk.

A couple holding hands
Have they really seperated?

The practical barriers women face when leaving an abusive partner are widely recognised, but the emotional attachment a woman may have to her abuser is often misunderstood or overlooked. Yet an ongoing emotional attachment can often outweigh any practical issues in a woman's decision to stay with, or leave, her abusive partner. As a tactic of control, many perpetrators who are abusive can also appear loving and kind for much of the time, causing confusion in their partner as well as increasing their bond.

Leaving an abusive partner is not usually a one-off event but tends to occur after a number of separations and reconciliations. Amongst other caveats, it is most important to always keep in mind that a victim may not be acting out of free choice and consent. Like countless other actions a woman may take such as retracting statements and having illicit contact, this may well be a strategy to keep herself and her children safe that seems illogical to someone not experiencing abuse.

It is also important to remember that mothers and their children are often at greater risk following separation, 55% of the women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse in 2017 were killed within the first month of separation and 87% in the first year.

Factors that suggest there is ongoing attachment.

The presence of any of the following factors suggest an increasing/increased vulnerability to re-assault for mothers who have been experiencing domestic violence; the greater number of factors present, the higher the vulnerability:

1. Minimising - she has started to minimise or justify his behaviour.

2. Warmth - when asked how they met, what attracted her, etc, she becomes more animated and speaks warmly of him, her eyes light up.

3. Contact - there are allegations of contact from any source (even if unproven).

4. Disengagement - she has started to disengage from services.

5. Changes - She has recently changed her account of what happened and/or withdrawn statements, etc.. There may also be a change in the children's behaviour.

6. Injuries - · There are any unexplained injuries to her and/or the child(ren).

7. History - attachment is likely to be stronger if there is a history of:

  • drug or alcohol use and he was her enabler

  • physical and/or mental health issues and he was her ‘carer’

  • immigration status issues which make her dependent on her abuser

  • cultural factors, such as coming from a small ethnic or religious community of which he is a part

  • strong links with his or her wider family or between the families

  • financial struggles particularly if she was financially dependent on her abuser.

It is essential that men’s responsibility for the abuse, and the impact of the abuse on their partner, is not forgotten. There is no evidence to suggest that abused women are worse mothers than non-abused women but where women’s parenting capacity is affected this should be recognised as a direct impact of her partner’s abuse.

Domestic abuse treatment programmes

It is DV-ACT’s experience that the most significant obstacle to achieving change through interventions is a victim’s continuing involvement with her abuser. Therapeutic work is most effective when a victim can focus on the needs of herself and her children without worrying about managing the needs of her partner at the same time. If a woman is able to separate both physically and emotionally from her partner there will be a greater chance of success on any treatment programme. It is also the case that treatment that takes place when a woman is still living with her abuser can expose her to additional risk.

DV-ACT have created a unique bespoke programme specifically for mothers who are in care proceedings or who have children in child protection measures with enduring problems around adult attachments, accountability and prioritising their children’s safety. The programme is demanding, matched to the needs of the woman and the child protection plan, and is particularly suitable for women who:

  • have an enduring emotional attachment to their abuser

  • have a history of separating and reconciling with their abuser

  • have a history of more than one abusive relationship

  • have failed to prioritise their own or their children’s safety when making decisions

  • have had previous children’s services involvement

  • consistently minimise the abuse/retract statements

  • coached children to manage their responses to social workers

To find out more read our post how do DV-ACT experts work with mothers to reduce their vulnerability? or contact us.

The current level of risk

The Coronavirus crisis lockdown poses a myriad of problems for victims including a much higher risk of fatal violence. Of particular concern are those perpetrators that have a history of coercive controlling behaviour and who have used high risk, potentially lethal, behaviours in the past.

The DV-ACT Blog gives further assistance on how to help families living with domestic abuse during the Coronavirus crisis, including; completing safety planning with families, completing emergency safety planning with perpetrators, and how to keep victims safe when using video calling.

DV-ACT experts are continuing to work throughout the Cornavirus pandemic as usual and are available to discuss cases, provide treatment, and complete assessments on both victims and perpetrators remotely. Visit our post how are DV-ACT completing assessments during coronavirus crisis to find out how we are currently working.

This blog also gives up to date information on DV-ACT services; how DV-ACT assessments are used to safeguard children in care proceedings, why only domestic abuse experts should be used in domestic abuse cases and how to make a referral.

About us

DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, providing domestic and sexual abuse assessments, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. 

Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.

​DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do.