Violence doesn’t come out of the blue, says SVS Living Safe’s Clinical Leader Lois Hewetson. “It’s informed by trauma.”
Lois says SVS’s clients who have committed violence don’t simply wake up one day and decide to be abusive.
“Their violence often develops from past traumatic experiences. That is why family violence clinicians need to address the impacts of adverse childhood experiences if we are to create long lasting positive change for all those impacted by family violence.”
SVS Living Safe practices a treatment model that is responsive to perpetrators and their families as the best way to stop violence in the long-term.
Lois has 20 years’ experience in the family and sexual violence field and she says there is plenty of research available that identifies how a person’s adverse childhood experiences can contribute to a reduced ability to engage in healthy adult relationships. Earlier this month, Lois presented to a national audience about her experience.
“Children are dependent on the adults in their family being protective,” she says.
“When those adults are the very people causing the harm, the child’s development is affected in a variety of ways. They will believe that it’s their own fault when bad things happen to them – it’s too terrifying to consider the parent is the bad person. As a result, rage and shame will be played out in adult relationships.”
Working with clients in either group or one-on-one therapy, Lois says she balances two different aspects of the perpetrator’s life experience.
“On the one hand we can be aware of childhood trauma and on the other hand we know they have been violent. In some cases, the violence has been brutal and terrifying for the person being harmed. But taking a punitive approach that continues to shame and punish perpetrators only repeats the same negative childhood experiences.”
Some professionals working in the family violence sector operate with more of a corrective approach.
Lois says, “I understand the reactive feeling of outrage at those who perpetrate violence, I do. However, at SVS Living Safe, we commend people who have the courage to walk through our doors week after week. We provide them with an experience of connecting with someone who isn’t going to give up on them, someone who wants them to find ways to live a more healthy and safe lifestyle. We acknowledge their past trauma and help them make sense of it and how they dealt with it. We teach them that history is not destiny. We offer empathy and compassion and let them know they matter."
“Once you know you matter, then others matter too.”