In reported any type of violence were

In the final semester of my degree, I earned a field experience position at Bolton Refuge House in Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a Victim Services Intern. Bolton Refuge House is a shelter for all people seeking refuge from domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and other forms of intimate partner violence. I primarily served in their shelter location in downtown Eau Claire, WI. I also worked in one of their outreach offices in rural Mondovi, WI. While at Bolton I shadowed many one-on-one and group therapy sessions provided by the clinical social worker on site. These therapy sessions focused on the client’s mental health and goals after escaping their abuser. I was exposed to many women’s stories of abuse over the five months I spent there. The trauma this violence caused its victims will have lifelong consequences for these people, even through years of support and therapy. A study conducted by researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, found a total of 28.9% of women and 22.9% of men randomly polled reported they had experienced either physical, sexual, or psychological intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime. Of these, women were found to have experienced physical violence more often than men, who predominantly reported experiencing verbal and psychological abuse. Both men and women who reported any type of violence were found to have an increased risk of current mental and physical health symptoms, including depression and substance abuse. Both men and women also were more likely to experience chronic mental health symptoms and chronic disease in their lifetime after experiencing abuse 2. The therapy sessions I shadowed addressed many of the trauma related mental health symptoms which clients were experiencing. All the women I worked with would question what they did wrong to result in their circumstance. The Cycle of Violence theory is a tool I used to help explain to my clients the reasons violence exists and to demonstrate they are not at fault. However often I explained this, many of the women I served still felt a sense of responsibility and blamed themselves for the harm violence has caused themselves and their families. Their burden of responsibility on themselves weighed heavily on my heart. Domestic violence and intimate partner violence is so invasive and insidious, I began to question whether there was anything which could truly be done to end the cycle of violence altogether. During my time at Bolton, I could not help but wonder; where were the abusers? Many of the women I worked with spoke about their disinterest in seeking legal action against their abusers, for fear of retaliation and re-victimization. Often, the clients I worked with expressed a desire to be rid of their abuser completely, which included an abstinent stance against involving law enforcement. This made me question, what will it take to end abuse if the perpetrators of violence are not held responsible for their actions? At Bolton, we were taught the best way to interrupt the cycle of violence is to educate our clients on the warning signs of violence, so they are able to identify healthy behaviors and establish safe relationships. This education is necessary and valuable to the clients who were on the path to escaping violence, and it is a valuable preventative measure to avoid future violence. In my opinion, however, this is not the answer to ending violence.  I believe social workers have a responsibility to do more than advocate for survivors of violence. I believe it is social work’s responsibility to address the source of abuse. There will be no end to victims if we are not in the field doing the hard and dangerous work of helping to reform the abusers. There will always be more survivors finding themselves in poverty, in homelessness, and suffering from trauma, if we do not put ourselves in the position to really attempt to affect change in the abusers themselves 2. Social workers need to be the people initiating contact to help educate and reform the perpetrators of domestic violence. A value which I hold strongly is the ability to see the intrinsic and inherent value in all persons, regardless of current or past circumstance. This value includes believing all humans have the ability to grow and change, even abusers. With the correct combination of motivation, education, and mental health care, social workers have the ability and the responsibility to attempt to reform perpetrators of violence. My five months spent at Bolton Refuge House ignited a passion to truly effect change and provide support for these survivors, and also it provided me with a sense of responsibility to assist the perpetrators themselves. In order to help end the cycle of violence for many families, it is vital to address the complex mental health powers at force. There are programs in existence across the country which attempt to educate and reform individuals who are charged and convicted with crimes relating to domestic violence, however the effectiveness of such programs is still being researched. A meta-analysis of 22 treatment programs for males convicted of domestic violence charges conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston show low treatment efficacy across treatment models, and rates of recidivism did not change significantly after the initial arrest was made 1. Research of these treatment programs showed perpetrators who underwent any form of treatment had a 40% chance of maintaining nonviolence, as opposed to the 35% likelihood of nonviolence seen in males who did not undergo treatment after the initial arrest was made. However, researchers determined there is no statistical significance in an increase of recidivism with or without treatment. In real world application, though, this 5% increase in nonviolence after treatment translates to approximately 42,000 real people per year who potentially could avoid further abuse. This demonstrates that treatment programs are necessary, and in some cases they are effective, even though not as effective as one would hope. In a case as series and damaging as domestic violence, any amount of success in treatment is cause for celebration, however it is clearly not enough 1. It is critical that evidence-based practices are developed to serve the variety of individuals who are committing these crimes. Our service needs to begin with the survivors of violence. Survivors are seeking refuge and treatment for their trauma, therefore it is necessary they are served first. From there, victims should feel empowered to press charges against offenders. Due justice is necessary when a crime is committed, and perpetrators of violence are not an exception. Beyond that, offenders should be empowered to actively engage in efforts for rehabilitation and education. It is social work’s responsibility to develop research and evidence-based practices to address the reasons people perpetuate violence. It is critical for social work professionals to work across disciplines and engage law enforcement and other community organizers to reach a common goal of ending intimate partner violence. 

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