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Essex Probation

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Meet Anne and Gina: they work with domestic abusers in the south of the county

Anne StackAnne has worked for 13 years with us in Probation and is now part of Essex CRC owned by Sodexo. As an Offender Manager, she specialises in Domestic Abuse cases.

 

Georgina SelfGina worked in the prison system for a year, and subsequently with us for two years, in ‘Interventions’: working on some of the programmes which reduce people’s likelihood of offending. One of them is the Building Better Relationships programme (BBR) for Domestic Abusers.

 

Communication between the two workers is vital.

Anne will take a look at a new Pre-Sentence Report written for the courts about an offender, and work out how best to approach his particular case. She refers them to the BBR programme, but will work with them on their own first.

“At first, men seems to have no real answers as to why they abuse their partners,” says Anne. “There’s quite a lot of denial. And if it’s violent abuse, it can be pre-planned, but sometimes not. ‘I lashed out because I couldn’t control myself,’ some might say. They might frequently deny that they’ve been trying to control their partners.”

The question ‘How did you come to be like this?’ is obviously important, and as they start to understand themselves more, they will respond more easily to what’s being done with them. “As soon as they start to trust us, and the working relationship improves, they become more honest,” says Anne. “They need to know that you care about their lives and will support them to get where they need to be. Then they’ll talk about things very personal to them.”

But what about the offences they have committed? Doesn’t it make it difficult for Anne to form that relationship with them? “I think more of potential future victims,” she says. “And getting to understand where all this abuse comes from means that I can help people avoid it in future.

“There’s a lot of emotional mismanagement in these men: jealousy, embarrassment, misery can build up as they fail to express it – it becomes like a funnel, a whirlwind. Or maybe as children they saw a lot of this behaviour in their own parents. Finding out the roots of their particular behaviour is part of the job.”

Does this work for all abusers? “No. But we can do very positive work with most of them. Strange as it may seem to them at first, we’re working to help them find the strengths which will help them stop being violent. And this is where the programme comes in.”

“The BBR programme can peel back to the real causes of their behaviour, and where they come from,” says Gina. “We offer them the chance to identify the roots of their aggressive behaviour themselves. It certainly takes a while to do.”

“We start with two one-to-one sessions of 1 ½ hours each, creating a life map or having a detailed conversation which results in a letter confirming what’s been said and what they’ve agreed to, then they must take part in a foundation course of six group sessions. Weeks later, another one-to-one session will pick apart what they’ve learned, reviewing their new skills and seeing if and how they’re being applied.

“A further six sessions follows: about thinking. About biases, tunnel vision, sticking to what you believe. Techniques are learned to help people create a ‘helicopter’ view: what would my mate say if he was looking at my situation? We zoom in and out, making people see issues from different standpoints.

Anne and Georgina in a meeting

Anne and Gina at work

“Yet another one-to-one session will check them out before they’re allowed to move on to the next six group sessions, this time on emotions. Identifying emotions other than anger (which is often the only emotion they pay attention to.) They will look at the primary ones – embarrassment, for instance, and then the secondary, which is the anger. They get to understand also their use of emotions to manipulate people. They look at stress, at jealousy. All the kind of stuff that they would normally find difficult to talk about.

“Another one-to one is followed by six sessions on relationships. How to be assertive, how to negotiate, how to compromise, and so on. Their own attachment styles in relationships, whether it be smothering or paying no attention or other attitudes. By the end of all this, they have gone through a massive amount and it’s interesting to see the effects.

“A three-way interview between the service user, the offender manager and the interventions worker checks out the individual’s learning, and points the way to more work with the offender manager in the next phase of their supervision.”

As the Offender Manager, Anne also makes sure she sees the abuser during this long period of groupwork. “Reinforcing what they’re learning, being positive makes a big difference,” she says. “People need encouragement to continue with what can be a challenging and lengthy piece of work. I will also need to work with any of those who aren’t getting sufficiently involved.”

Both Anne and Gina love their jobs. “You see people having that lightbulb moment – going quiet,” says Gina. “It can be at any time during the groupwork, or on their own with their Offender Manager. It suddenly occurs to them that “I used to do that”, or “I didn’t realise I did that.” Or maybe after the DVD we show them, they’ll go away and think about it, and come back thinking even harder.”

“You can see they don’t want to be that person,” says Anne.


But what about the victims?

Partners get offered a service as well. Women’s Safety Workers will contact them, and every new partner who comes on the scene. Early on, offenders will be informed that their partners will be told about their involvement with us. The Women’s Safety Workers offer continuing assistance during what can be a very difficult period.