Social Work Plays Key Role

In recent years, great strides have been made in federal legislation to aid those experiencing the effects of domestic violence.

While there is still room for improvement, social workers remain key players in helping domestic abuse victims and survivors both personally and through continuing advocacy efforts.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it provides an opportunity to educate social workers about the many progressive policy advancements that have taken place and to reinforce social work’s important role in helping survivors of abuse.

Tricia Bent-GoodleyTricia Bent-Goodley (photo right), chairwoman of the NASW National Committee on Women’s Issues, focuses her research on violence against women and girls, HIV prevention and healthy-relationship education.

“Domestic Violence Awareness Month may only come once a year, but domestic violence happens every single day,” said Bent-Goodley, who also is a professor of social work at Howard University School of Social Work. “We can make a difference to prevent domestic violence — every one of us.”

The Violence Against Women Act, passed into law in 1994, was a milestone reaction to domestic violence. With it came the creation of a coordinated community reaction to domestic abuse.

Bent-Goodley said the bill increased public awareness of domestic abuse and set systemic laws and criminal justice responses to those impacted by violence at home.

While stigma associated with domestic violence victims has softened since 1994, Bent-Goodley said female victims still experience negative stereotypes and are treated differently because of the victim status.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

On the positive side, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was passed in February, containing important mandates to include cultural competency in domestic violence services, Bent-Goodley said.

In addition, the reauthorization includes provisions outlined in the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. It requires that colleges and universities provide information to students and employees about dating violence, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

The Affordable Care Act will help domestic violence survivors as well, Bent-Goodley noted. It will increase access to care for domestic violence victims and it ensures that those with physical ailments due to domestic violence are not turned away by insurance, and that they have access to future care, she said.

These are just a few of the many federal policies at work to address domestic violence. It is important that social workers educate themselves about the advancements so they can use the information when helping clients, said Rita Webb, senior practice associate at NASW who specializes in women’s issues and domestic violence.

Bent-Goodley, who wrote the NASW Press book “The Ultimate Betrayal: A Renewed Look at Intimate Partner Violence,” said social workers who do not believe they work directly with domestic violence victims or survivors are most in need of a refresher course.

“Domestic violence is still often done in silence,” she explained. “As trained social workers that understand the nature and cycle of domestic violence, we can help survivors identify the domestic violence they are experiencing and point them to needed services.”

She said social workers can help implement the new Violence Against Women Act provisions by ensuring that the policies and services provided are culturally competent and effective.

“As a profession, our micro and macro focus allows us to understand how the environmental issues intersect with the psychological trauma and biological issues that impact survivors,” Bent-Goodley said. “We can bring greater awareness to these issues, how they intersect with the environment and create responsiveness at multi-levels.”

Bent-Goodley said lawmakers can improve domestic violence responses in the future by tying funding to a provider’s ability to deliver culturally competent services.

“I think it’s also important that we not focus as much on the criminalization of domestic violence and put more energy, funding and focus to the social and public health consequences and prevention efforts of domestic violence,” she said.

NASW offers an online Domestic Violence Media Toolkit.