Evangelos Lambrinoudis II/the Gauntlet

Repairing the cracks of domestic violence

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The Centre for Response-Based Practice out of Duncan B.C. and the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, along with the City University of Seattle masters and counseling program are presenting a three-day conference at the University of Calgary on May 29–31. The conference, called In Dignity, will address domestic violence and will talk about how people respond to and resist violence. This conference is the first one to present ideas about response-based practice in Calgary.

Allan Wade co-founded the idea of response-based practice, along with Linda Coates and Nick Todd. Wade is a family therapist and researcher and works with couples and families who are facing adversity in the form of violence. 

“Response-based practice stems from the observation that when people are badly treated or when they face adversity, they always respond in some kind of way to address the adversity, to resist the violence, to preserve and reassert their dignity,” said Wade. “When you see how people respond to and resist violence, you begin to see that many forms of violence are much more deliberate than is conventionally assumed. For example, offenders anticipate that the victim will resist and take steps to circumvent and suppress that resistance.”

Wade’s practice also focuses on understanding how society and professionals respond to acts of violence. 

“There’s good research now that shows that the way in which professionals, friends and family respond to violence is probably the single best predictor of the level of victim distress,” said Wade. 

Wade explained that the response of police, family counsellors, parents, siblings and others is an important factor in dealing with violence. 

“We study how individuals respond to adversity and the social responses that they receive, so we work to align ourselves with people’s responses to adversity and also to try and improve the quality of social responses, right across the board, in professional settings,” said Wade. “Where most forms of counselling or therapy focus on how people are affected or impacted, we argue that that this focus leaves out a great deal, including how people respond to adversity and resist. Many of the forms of resistance are then misunderstood as deficits or pathologies or some other problem in the victim.”

To explain this view of the victim, Wade gave an example of an adult who survived sexual abuse as a child. The woman told Wade that she had always had the sense that she should have done more in regards to her abuse, but once she began looking at her experiences through response-based practice, she realized that she did do what she could do, which was an important difference for her. 

Wade’s response-based practice and research also involves a comprehensive analysis of language, which will be an important part of the conference. He said that violent acts that are unilateral, meaning they involve one person acting against another, are often described as mutual, meaning they involved two people participating in the action. 

“For example, violent actions, like wife assault, are unilateral actions by one person against the other. However, they are often described as mutual actions. Wife assault is often called a dispute or an argument. Well, a dispute or an argument is something that two people do together, an assault is something that one person does to another,” said Wade. 

Wade will be talking about children’s resistance to violence at the conference. He has studied the portrayal of the sexual abuse of children. 

“Even though consent law in Canada states that children 15 and under cannot consent to sex, they are still routinely described in criminal justice settings and psychological and psychiatric reports as participants in sexual behaviour,” said Wade. “We talk about the importance of certain types of grammar and how important it is to get clear and accurate descriptions.”

One of Wade’s presentations is about interviewing victims of interpersonal violence, which discusses the importance of accurate language. 

Wade said that violence is often concealed by euphemisms, and as such, there are implications for every professional setting. 

Gillian Weaver-Dunlop, who is the manager of men’s counselling services at the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, will be presenting at the conference. One of her presentations is about interviewing men who have used violence and draws on how she uses response-based practice in her work. 

“With victims of domestic violence, we pay attention to how they respond to being abused by their partners. We look at what they do to oppose, to stand up against, to resist any violence — whether it’s overt actions or covert actions that others might not see. Sometimes that can be even in the privacy of their own mind because it’s not safe for them to resist openly,” said Weaver-Dunlop. 

She explained how victims of domestic violence are often described as being damaged or having deficiencies. 

“We try to highlight a person’s agency in terms of how they have responded to acts of violence,” said Weaver-Dunlop. “There is a new energy that comes into the room when we talk about how they resisted, how they responded and what did they do in the face of oppression, degradation and abuse.”

She also uses this approach when working with perpetrators of violence. She explained how perpetrators talk in the “language of effects,” meaning they see their actions as the effect of something else — for example, having an abusive childhood, being drunk or the result of a mental illness. 

“It is our perspective that they made a choice by responding in an abusive way, and in our experience, men are usually not okay with having done that. We try to focus on choice and volition in their actions. We focus on their responses rather than seeing their violence as an effect of something else,” said Weaver-Dunlop. 

The conference is expecting about 175–200 people. Susan Smed, an organizer of the conference, said they are currently trying to get the word out to their target audience

“We prefer to have people who can really benefit in their work,” said Smed. 

The Centre for Response-Based Practice and the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter hope to target people who either work in family counselling, domestic violence, police work, education or institutions such as courts. 

They are also trying to reach out to the Aboriginal community. However, people who are interested that don’t specifically work in counselling are welcome, because the practice can help everyone see violent acts differently.