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Responding to counter allegations in family violence

Counter allegations are where both parties allege that the other is abusive. Counter allegations by predominant aggressors can be allegations of child abuse, physical violence, benefit fraud, or anything that will bring the primary victim into disrepute. This can make working with family violence complex.

When there are counter allegations, it's important there is consideration of the patterns of behaviour, particularly relating to coercive control. When counter allegations are looked at through patterns of behaviour, a predominant aggressor and a primary victim are likely to emerge.

There may be some truth to the allegations made by the predominant aggressor, however, the concept of primary victim resistance (this is discussed in detail in our Practitioner-Victim Insight Concept training) is useful to understand and explore the allegations. Safelives in the UK describe this as:

Women engage in certain behaviours throughout abusive relationships to show they are not passive and/or helpless. While some of these behaviours may seem obvious, the identification and availability of resistance strategies will depend on the abuser’s level of control. One of the personal strategies to resist an abusive partner is hitting back. However, hitting back can be very dangerous because it is an overt form of resistance. Moreover, the abusive male may be able to physically overpower the woman when she physically resists. Nevertheless, some women still engage in physical resistance, which challenges the notion of passivity in intimate partner violence victims...

Victims will not always be passive, they may respond to a perpetrator’s violent behaviour in a retaliatory way. However, resistance violence from victims has very different motivations than violence from perpetrators. These can be safety planning (getting to safest place just after violence), survival (trying to stay alive) or dignity (I won’t be treated like this).

We have to explore all aspects of risk and barriers that inhibit connection and engagement, and the possible reasons behind behaviour. That means we have to look beyond the family violence – Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Intrafamilial Violence (IFV) to understand the complex context of whānau lives. 

Structures and systems can be used by predominant aggressors in attempts to further control the primary victim. We call this multifaceted entrapment, which includes several levels of entrapment. If practitioners and responders do not understand that entrapment is multi-faceted, then they may be missing barriers to engagement, that can further harm primary victims. It's important we're not only responding to relationship entrapment, without considering barriers that may exist for whānau due to prior systemic and structural entrapment.  Whānau may not be willing to, or may be fearful of engaging with services, systems and structures that have previously harmed them. An understanding of all facets of prior entrapment, will provide greater likelihood of a better outcomes for whānau.

Multifaceted entrapment

1.       Relationship Entrapment

Relational entrapment is where predominant aggressor abuse entraps the primary victim. The predominant aggressor uses patterns of coercive control over time as a calculated way in which to entrap the primary victim in the relationship.  Entrapment inhibits and removes a primary victim's ability to exist freely within their own world.

2.       Systemic and Organisation Entrapment

Systemic and organisational entrapment is where systems and organisations do not respond appropriately to the primary victim, resulting in further victimisation and/or entrapment. Predominant aggressors can also use systems and organisations as a way of controlling the primary victim (for example, by making counter allegations resulting in investigations of the primary victim by organisations).

3.       Structural Inequity Entrapment

Structural entrapment is where the overarching structures that exist within the likes of our society constructs, communities, government structures, ineffective legislation, or court systems can result in further victimisation and entrapment.  Ineffective or ill-informed structural process, or mindset can result in inequitable response due to acts such as racism and ethnic bias, gender bias, LGBTQIA+ bias, disability bias etc.

Careful consideration of the primary victim's resistance to violence or the predominant aggressor's use of systems and structures to further control the primary victim is necessary.

There is a link to a useful Practice Guide "Responding to Counter allegations: Guidance - A review of practice" it covers off practice aspects such as predominant aggressors presenting as victims, primary victims utilising defence and/or retaliatory violence, predominant aggressors using coercive control, and support to our LGBTQIA+ whānau.  It also highlights resistance strategies and mutual violence. (Please note, this practice guide is for the UK context and is focused on their risk assessment processes, however, there is some helpful learning and information in it).

Hopefully this will offer some insights and tools into how to further explore systemic abuses by predominant aggressors, and how inadequate systemic, organisational and structural processes and responses can cause further harm to primary victims. 

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