The Post Separation Abuse Wheel
In this post, we discuss the prevalence of post-separation abuse and how the Duluth Model's Post Separation Wheel can be used in domestic abuse practice. We also provide advice for those struggling with this type of abuse.
It is not always the case that leaving an abusive partner will increase a woman’s safety and research has established that, in many cases, domestic abuse from an intimate partner does not end upon separation. Post-separation can actually see an escalation of abuse with women reporting continued threats and intimidation when leaving their abusive partner. This abuse ranges from harassment type behaviour to physical abuse with a heightened risk of homicide. The Femicide census (2018) identified that 41% of women killed by a partner/former partner had separated or taken steps to separate, with 30% killed within the first month and 70% killed within the first year of separation.
Separated mothers are often under greater pressure from an abusive ex and many have no choice but to continue to consult with them over childcare arrangements and see them during child exchanges. Formal and informal child care arrangements allow abusers to have access to the victim, providing opportunities for continued abuse. Research has indicated a number of ways that abusers attempt to control mothers through childcare arrangements including; physical violence or threats of violence; emotional abuse; financial abuse; threatening to abduct the children; undermining the mothers’ authority; using the children to find out confidential contact information and using childcare arrangements to track and control mothers’ schedules.
What is the Post-Separation wheel?
The Duluth Post Separation wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in America (they also produced the Power and Control wheel which is well known and widely used in domestic abuse practice in the UK). The wheels were created as a tool to describe domestic abuse to practitioners, victims, perpetrators and the general public.
The wheel identifies the different types of post-separation abuse commonly used by abusers and then goes further to outline the specific types of behaviour that indicate that these types of abuse are being used. The types of abuse, with one example of the type of behaviours used, are:
Using physical and sexual violence against mother and children (threatening to kidnap the children)
Using harassment and intimidation (destroying things belonging or related to her or the children)
Undermining her ability to parent (disrupting children's sleep/feeding patterns)
Discrediting her as a mother (using her social status against her)
Withholding financial support (withholding child support, insurance, medical etc..)
Endangering children (neglecting them when they're with him)
Disregarding children (Ignoring school schedules, homework)
Disrupting her relationships with children (coercing them to ally with him)
How can the wheel be used in practice?
The wheel can be used to point out the behaviours that have been used against victims/survivors and name the abuse. They are then able to see that they are not alone in their experience and can gain a greater understanding of the tactics the abuser is using to continue their abuse.
The wheel can also be used for male perpetrators to identify the tactics they are using and draw their attention to the fact that these behaviours are abusive. For those who are motivated to change, the wheel can be a useful tool to hold a discussion about the pattern of behaviour that abusers typically use so that the beliefs that contribute to their behaviour can be explored. The wheel can also be used alongside the Power and Control Wheel and Equality Wheel to help perpetrators see alternate ways of being in a relationship, free of violence and controlling behaviour.
Domestic abuse activists have also used the wheel to highlight the plight of victims it is especially helpful for combating the common myth that women should "just leave", with the popular assumption being that if the victim leaves they will then be safe from abuse.
The wheel can also be used in a variety of settings to describe abuse to professionals particularly in social work, family law and criminal justice training.
Post-separation abuse and child contact
When looking at child contact, the safety of the children should always be the primary concern. Keep in mind that when looking at the risk that a perpetrator poses to their victim, past behaviour is the most reliable indicator of future behaviour. When considering the risk of post-separation abuse particular care should be taken where perpetrators have a history of coercive controlling behaviour.
Where direct contact is taking place (where the child sees the non-resident parent face to face) you may need to limit the amount of contact that you have with the parent for handovers, this could mean:
Have someone else handover the child/ren (a trusted relative or friend).
Use neutral places where there are plenty of people around (you could use a fast food restaurant like McDonalds or a shopping centre).
Use a contact centre - you can find a Contact Centre on the National Association of Contact Centres website.
If arranging contact is difficult you could ask an indirect contact service to manage communications (please contact us for details of DV-ACT's contact service).
Make sure you have a safety plan in place and keep it up to date.
If the contact is indirect (where contact is not in person) and the other parent is using communications around child contact to continue to abuse and harass, you may want to consider:
Asking a trusted friend or relative to handle the indirect contact and have any letters/parcels delivered to them which they pass to you.
Use a service such as a contact centre or DV-ACT's indirect contact service to manage the contact and communication around it.
If cutting off communication isn't possible, keep communications brief and only discuss contact arrangements, try to ignore comments that he makes and not be baited into an argument.
Have a safety plan and keep it up to date.
If you are considering using video calling (like skype or zoom) this should be approached with caution. Our experience of this being used during the pandemic was that abusers used this type of contact to harass and control their ex-partner further, with children witnessing abuse. They can also look for clues as to the child’s location if they are in a safe address that is unknown to them.
If your ex continues to be emotionally abusive to your children and you're struggling with this, focus on taking care of yourself so that you can support your children better. Make a self-care plan and stick to it, you may find it helpful to join a support group for survivors or find a counsellor with experience in domestic abuse.
DV-ACT's indirect contact service
In cases where only indirect contact is appropriate, DV-ACT can facilitate this by checking all correspondence and forwarding emails/letters/parcels to the child/their carer. This allows parents to keep their addresses and contact details anonymous. Also, a third party can check correspondence to ensure it does not contain abuse or harassing messages. A dedicated email address is available for this service and cases can be referred by social workers, solicitors or by parents privately (please note that DV-ACT cannot mediate between parents, settle private disputes or provide legal advice).
The main aim of this service is to ensure positive outcomes for children and allow them to maintain safe contact with the parent they no longer live with. The service can also be used by other family members such as grandparents and siblings.
If you would like to make a referral for indirect contact services please contact us.
In an emergency always dial 999
If you dial 999 and are unable to speak press 55 and follow the instructions from the operator, find out more here - https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/research-learning/Silent_solution_guide.pdf
Helplines are available in the UK as follows:
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Action on Elder Abuse helpline: 0808 808 8141
Childline - 0800 1111 you can also go to https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/
NSPCC (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 or Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form email@example.com
Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040
Online community support - With Abuse Talk you can join the discussion on domestic abuse through a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday 8-9pm GMT www.twitter.com/abusetalkonline there is also a forum https://jennifergilmour.com/community/ which is available 24/7 and even houses a solicitor who will answer questions and queries for no charge, and a podcast which delivers a series of interviews with those that work in the domestic abuse sector. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.
Duluth model wheels can be found at - https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/
Further research and information used in this post can be found here -
Zeoli, A. M., Rivera, E. A., Sullivan, C. M., & Kubiak, S. (2013). Post-Separation Abuse of Women and their Children: Boundary-setting and Family Court Utilization among Victimized Mothers. Journal of family violence, 28(6), 547–560. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-013-9528-7
Brownridge DA, Chan KL, Hiebert-Murphy D, Ristock J, Tiwari A, Leung WC, Santos SC. The elevated risk for non-lethal post-separation violence in Canada: a comparison of separated, divorced, and married women. J Interpers Violence. 2008 Jan;23(1):117-35. doi: 10.1177/0886260507307914. PMID: 18087035.
DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, 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. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?