When abuse is disclosed
Ask about specific incidents of violence – the first one, the worst one, and the most recent one. This will give you an overall picture of the client’s experience and how bad it has gotten. If the worst incident was also the most recent one, safety must be your first concern. Give her time to tell her story. You might ask:
- How did the incident get started?
- What exactly happened? What did he do/say? What did you do/say?
- How did it end (e.g., kids came home and he stopped, neighbor called the police, he passed out)?
- If someone intervened, what happened as a result?
- What were things like afterwards?
Focus on her partner’s behavior, not on his feelings or her behavior. For instance:
- Ask: “What did he do when he got angry?” to keep the focus on his behavior.
- Don’t ask: “Why does he get so angry?” This focuses on his feelings, and may lead you to see his behavior as excusable.
- Don’t ask: “What did you do that made him so angry?” This focuses on her behavior, and implies that what he did to her was partly her fault.
Ask about the impact of abuse on her health, mental health, substance use, work, and parenting.
Ask about past trauma, and how it affects her now. Childhood trauma is associated with a higher risk for both substance abuse and revictimization later in life.3
- NOTE: If the screening does not reveal any abuse, you may still see red flags as you continue to work with the individual. These should prompt you to ask again about domestic violence.
- Fazzone, P.A., Holton. J.K., & Reed, B.G., Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 25. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Rockville, MD DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 97-3163,1997.