Alex reflects on what helped her work through the trauma of sexual violence within her marriage and how she has been able to move forward.
Lisa Berlin, a Social Worker, shares her insights from over 25 years in the domestic violence sector, working with and counselling women, many who have experienced IPSV.
This podcast's contains information and stories relating to sexual violence and domestic violence against women and maybe triggering to survivors the thought of being intimate with another guy or even just being with another man petrifies me. I can't imagine being able to have a relationship with anyone. I don't know how people do it. How does it work? What does it look like? Cause I just don't have a concept of it now. It's taken a lot of hard work, learning good coping strategies and moving forward to live a happy and meaningful life. No, I know I have a right to certain things that I didn't think I did before because it was not given to me. I'm thinking I might want to work for the DVP people one day, so either that or parliament so I can make change cause I really want to make a difference. I can move past the trauma and know that it's not everything. It's not all your life experience and you can get past it and do great things and have a fulfilling successful life. This podcast is part of a series which were created by women with lived experiences of intimate partner sexual violence and workers in the field of domestic violence and sexual violence, intimate partner sexual violence, also referred to as ips fee can be difficult to define and for every woman who has experienced it, it can mean something different. For the purpose of these podcasts, we have come up with a definition that we hope is inclusive to all women and all experiences. The information provided in this podcast contains no advice and gives general information only listeners should I act on the basis of any material in this podcast without obtaining specific expert professional advice about their own particular situation. Then under community support group incorporated expressly disclaims any liability howsoever caused any persons with respect to any action taken in reliance to the contents of this publication. Intimate partner sexual violence, Ips v is any form of sexual assault that takes place within an intimate relationship, whether the parties are married or not. It includes right the use of force, threats or coercion to obtain sexual acts shaming and not respecting a person's sexual or physical privacy. All of these can be used to gain power and control over a partner within an intimate relationship. If you've been following the series, you may have recognized my voice from the introduction of the other podcasts. I'm now going to share with you some of my story about moving forward with life after experiencing sexual violence within my marriage, life has moved from the difficulties of the past. So I was in the relationship for over a decade. Um, and married for about half of that. In the beginning it was normal. There was nothing. It was absolutely just no more happy marriage. Um, would never in a million years have thought that it would go down the road that it went down. And I think, well, no one ever expects that, but it somehow this little things change and you've suddenly, it's actually your new normal and you kind of lose that perspective. Most of what I experienced was ips fee rather than your standard DV. I tried to be comfortable with it so that I could still enjoy my life. So, um, the more I kind of told myself that this is normal and this is what happens in all our light, like anyone's relationship, like everyone who I meet on, you know, this is probably happening behind the scenes in their relationship to, yeah, actually I could found myself quite often just saying where does different to everyone else? And I was quite okay with that. I just tried to keep telling myself it's okay, where does different, you know, that's just the way things are so that I could get through it. The thing that made me realize that it was intimate partner sexual violence was when I went to my GP. It was after, um, the relationship had ended and I went in cause I was experiencing some physical issues and um, she started asking me some questions and that's where the stories started coming out. And I could tell from her reaction, um, that things really weren't normal at first. I didn't know what was happening. Everything was kind of coming out and I didn't know how to feel. I kind of just felt nothing. Um, and then I also felt like my life was kind of running along without me and everything was out of control. Um, and one of the coping strategies that I turned to was in the form of eating disorder. Um, so that definitely was a negative coping strategy. Um, that took me down a whole nother road, but it was like a comfort to me while everything else seemed out of control. It was like the last thing that I could control in my life was my food and like my intake of food. It took a lot of work to get where I am today. Yup. It didn't just happen. It's not like I woke up one morning and suddenly I had different ways of coping. Um, I've, I've been seeing a counselor since early on and there have been a lot of stumbling blocks. Um, it definitely hasn't been easy. It seems easy now. Another stumbling block is that I always used to worry that I would never find someone else and that I could never have a normal relationship again. That was really petrified of that. I didn't know how I would be in a new relationship. I didn't know, um, if I could feel normal in a relationship, again, I just had no idea. But I am in a relationship now and it's, I'm so, and I know that I can be normal and well, the relationship can be healthy and be normal and I can feel normal. And so that's really good. Some of the ways that I deal with some of the little things that come up every now and then, um, sometimes it's just a little bit of a cry and I feel better. Sometimes I'll just chat to a friend, um, or I might write about it. Sometimes I need to just do a little bit of journaling. Um, but generally I'm able to feel like experience a feeling and it just, that's what it is. Like acknowledge it and be like, Yep, I'm feeling this way and that's okay. And, and eventually it goes away. And instead of getting caught up in, in that feeling, I think I used to a lot more in the early days. Um, I would get really caught up in my feelings and then get taken back to memories. But as time's gone on, yeah, I do less of that. I'm more able to just kind of feel it in really short term and, and kind of move along and just really naturally just happens that way. So yeah, some of the wins were that through all of this time I had such a good support system around me, through friends and my church, family counseling, um, and mentors, there's so many significant people who've been in my life. That's what's helped me get through. So another thing that really helped me through that time, and I think that has really grown me as a person, was that I started doing my counseling studies. And in that process I've learned a lot about myself. Um, and I've really been able to grow into knowing who I am and my identity. To me, when you get married, you're going to be married forever. I never in a million years thought that I wouldn't be, I know that that played a big role in thinking that I had no other option. I just thought that I have to stay. There's, you know, this is what I believe and this is what everyone who's around me believes. No one would understand. I would be a failure hanging onto that belief, compromised my safety. I felt guilty that I left. Like, and I think at first I was just kind of saying like everything of everyone because I didn't know what was happening with my life. Everything was just all of a sudden out there. And um, so then I started to um, just be more selective and careful with what I said to who because there was definitely mixed reactions. I would want to tell my old self that things will get better. It will be okay. Keep talking to people. Don't shut yourself off from the rest of the world. Keep talking, keep surrounding yourself with good influences and people in your life who support you and he can have fun with. I think that's actually a big thing is just because of experience, something like this, you don't, to not have fun in life. Like that actually makes it so much better. You can still have heaps of fun and actually helps you pull, pull it out of some of those holes that are easy to get stuck in. I've loved doing these podcasts. It's been such an amazing experience. I really enjoyed working towards things that have an impact, especially something that I've experienced firsthand. I've been so thankful for this opportunity to be involved in something that will hopefully help others and just bring more awareness around intimate partner sexual violence. It's been really important in the relationship that I'm in now for us to be able to talk openly about some of the experiences that I've had. I mean, he's learning in this too, so I've not been in a relationship like this since my previous relationship and he's not been in a relationship like this either, so we've been learning how to communicate and move forward together. I would like people to know that it's still possible to experience some of the feelings that you have about what has happened and be able to live a happy life at the same time. I think one really important thing that I've learned has been to not bury the past but not live in it. I hope you've been able to take something away from my story. We now hear from Lisa, a family support worker at the Nundah neighborhood center who shares her insights into working with an counseling women who have experienced intimate partner sexual violence.Speaker 2:
A little bit about myself, I'm a social worker by profession and I've have a keen interest in the area of domestic violence and have for a very long time. I'm really going way back to my uni days, which is a few decades ago. Um, when I did my f, uh, placement there, social work placement in a women's refuge and that was, um, that was back in the late eighties. And even then, um, I guess at that time, intimate partner, sexual violence as we're calling it here today is not something that it wasn't named as such. And even though we knew that that was part of what happened in domestic violence wasn't really spoken about. There are probably lots of women that I saw in a counseling setting. We're sexual violence within their domestic violence would have been quite significant and hot. How'd I initiated those conversations? I think they might've been quite useful and quite helpful for women. Um, and for many reasons, some women don't talk about them and sometimes it's because there's a lot else that's happening where the sexual violence might even take a back seat. And because some women, there's that sense of shame even though I believe that shame belongs to the perpetrator. I know that women where that sense of shame and sometimes find it really tricky to talk about. Um, and I think that it hasn't happened to anybody else. So they really feel quite alone in that sense of isolation as a counselor when people disclose Ips v I'm never particularly surprised because I have been doing this work for a very long time. However, I am always really concerned when I hear about it because I know that it can have some really some very grave impact on so many women. What I do with it once they tell me really depends on the person who's disclosing the sort of rapport or relationship I have with them. What emotional state they're in when they're telling me, um, and I make an assessment at that point in time, whether or not to continue along that track and explore more about the sexual violence or whether to make a note of it, put it in a file and you know, think, okay, this is something that we need to come back to. Ultimately it's up to the woman. If something she really wants to talk about, it's, you know, I will take her lead, but I will of course be cautious on how I respond. And I think for me that's really important because I know from talking to women that how I respond may make a big difference. And whether or not they feel it's something that they can talk about again, whether or not they feel believed, um, whether or not they feel respected and hopefully not judged, but it makes a difference how somebody responds. So I'm very thoughtful about what I say and how I say it. So sometimes people will actually ask me, how to you deal with all this information? Hearing these quite horrific stories, um, of trauma. I think it's really important to put it out there that we're asking women to come in here and tell their stories as counselors advocating the idea of, of talking, well, as counselors we have to do the same sort of thing to process some of this information. So for me, knowing that I have professional supervision of somebody that I can talk to about particular woman's story or case or how I'm, you know, feeling like I'm being useful or not so useful or just finding a different strategy. Those are all things that are really important for me to be able to talk about in professional supervision. So in a way we're practicing what we're preaching if we're being being sort of cancer that I would like to be able to be. I know that it's really important for me to have those conversations. So there's that professional supervision part of it that helps process. There's also, for me, I know that because processing this information is so important so that I don't take it home with me every night. I take notes and my process of writing I think is actually something that helps me process it. That physical act of using my hand, that pen, you know, on the paper and writing because I'm very contemplated as I'm doing it. I do write in session, but it's what I do after session where my head is going through what's already what we've been talking about. And I'm sure that that's what happens for women as well. You know, they may leave the counseling session but they're probably still processing it. I also have pretty good self care strategies and again, this is stuff that we talk about with women all the time, that idea of self care, and I'm not just saying it to preach it, but it's, I have to do it myself. I could not still be doing this work 30 years later if I didn't have self care strategies. And for me those are things like I have a life outside of this work, you know, and it's a pretty good life. I like to go on holidays. I walk most mornings, I like to enjoy myself and have fun. Um, and that's something again, that we encourage, you know, encourage women to do, whether it's exercise, whether it's connecting with other people, which is huge, whether it's going to the beach or whatever it might be. So self care is really important for me as well. And some of that's just some time. Sometimes it's just a bit of time to um, be on my own and listen to the music that I like listening to. So it's a bit of both. Sometimes it's being with others sometimes as being on my own. So for me, having strong professional boundaries and really good self care is something that helps keep me in check so that I can stay in a good headspace and, and stay passionate about this work without taking onboard and wearing the distress of the women that I'm working alongside. This is work that's really important to me and I want to be able to hold on to that sense of passion. If I didn't take good care of myself, I don't think I would be able to be there in the same way. Things have changed over the decades that I've been doing this sort of work, but also there's more information out there. But one of the new pieces of information that's come out over the last few years that I think is really, really important is that there are certain red flags in domestic violence that we need to be aware of as professionals. I mean as women as well, but particularly as professionals because then we can act on it. And one of those pieces of knowledge is that if there's a history of sexual violence and or choking in a relationship, it is considered high risk for homicide. And that's something that has really only been talked about, I would say in the last 10 years. So really knowing those high risks, and I guess I'm hoping that people that are listening to this podcast will take note of those two things, was thinking about what the prevalence is of Ips v and our society. And I don't know that we have a great way of finding the statistic for that. But what I can say is that the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that one in four Australian women have experienced at least one incidence of violence by an intimate partner. And if we think about the fact that at the crux of domestic violence is power and control over somebody else, and if there has been an incident of domestic violence, there's already that established dynamic of power and control. And if there's that established dynamic of power and control, well I can't help but question whether or not a healthy sex life is even possible. If somebody knows, if a woman knows that their partner has the potential to harm them, how free is she really gonna feel in an act that already you're allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and if you know that this person can and has in the past harmed you in some way, I don't know that it can be a healthy sexual relationship. It doesn't mean that intimacy can sometimes be good. Of course, I'm sure it can. And has been for many of these women intermittently, doesn't mean that every single act is an act of sexual violence, but it's always there knowing that it can happen. And to me, that's a power imbalance. Most of the women I see have already left their relationships, but there's a certain percentage of women who are still in it and are either trying to find a way to safely leave or still hoping the relationship will change. And sometimes some of the women talk about feeling to trap, to leave even though they know that what they're experiencing is sexual violence and domestic violence, but they're too scared. So one of the tools that I use sometimes to help women identify sexual violence in their relationship is something called a power and control wheel. And this is a tool that's been around for a long time. Um, and the reason that I use it is that it's visual. They can see it. Um, and it's something that we can talk about together and point to. And it has different sections of, um, tactics that perpetrators of domestic violence used to either gain or maintain power and control over. Um, you know, over the woman. It has a line in there about sexual violence and because it's actually written there, they can see it there. It's something that we can talk about easier. And it also gives them that understanding that hey, I'm not the only one that's experienced this. This is actually on a form, on a piece of paper, on a tool, um, that is used and being used. So it gives them that sense of not being so alone. Um, and I think that's really, really important in terms of any legal boundaries with my work around disclosure of intimate partner sexual violence, because my work is on a therapeutic level and I'm working with adults, my commitment is really to maintain confidentiality and it's really important ethical guideline to uphold because women need to know that what they tell me is going to stay between us and that it's their information and really, really importantly that they get to control what happens to that information. So when you're violated or urine or you know, domestic violence, you don't have that sort of control. Somebody else has control over you. Power and control. So in this space where they're coming to see me, it's really important that they know they get to have that control and I don't get, I don't take that information and you know, relay it to anybody else unless I have expressed permission from them. Some moving on from ips fee is different for every woman and there are different things that will be useful and everybody moves in a different way. So if a woman has grown up in a family that's supportive of each other and she's able to tell a family member or family members and they believe her and stand by her, um, maybe even help her get, you know, help her find resources and um, stick with her through some tough times, that can be really, really helpful. Same with close friends having a close friend or two and it doesn't, I'm not talking about an army of friends, just a couple of people who you know, you can trust who are going to believe you. And who you can talk to and who will stick with you because it isn't necessarily, you know, this can be a bit of a process. Um, it also helps, can really help if you've had a good response from professionals. So if you've, if you've gone to the police and you've had a positive response, that's going to make a difference. Um, if you've gone to a counselor and they understand domestic violence and sexual violence, that's going to make a difference. If a woman's going to a professional, whether it's a police officer or a counselor, and that person either doesn't really understand the dynamics of domestic violence and intimate partner sexual violence, that can hurt. So if you first person you're telling doesn't believe you or just doesn't get it, I suppose it can prolong your ability to move forward, it might stop you from talking to somebody else. Another thing that makes a big difference in terms of time and how long it takes somebody to move forward from intimate partner sexual violence is whether or not they ex have had a history of trauma in their life, particularly a history of previous domestic violence. And sexual violence or history of childhood abuse and sexual violence in particular. So if those things are part of somebody's history, it might take a bit longer, especially if they haven't had somebody in their life that's they've been able to talk to or they haven't had the opportunity to really process those old traumas because traumas can pile up on top of each other. Um, and that can make it trickier really. Um, and take a bit more time. Yeah. I think it's also really important to say though, that there are, I've worked with many women over the years who have had those experiences and they can get through them and do and can go on to do amazing things. Sometimes when women come to see me and they disclose intimate partner sexual violence, they don't necessarily want the relationship to end. They want the violence to end. They might still love this person. They might still be hoping that this relationship can somehow work out. They don't necessarily want to walk away, but they also might learn that there's not a lot they can do to make that other person change. But sometimes women do stay if they do stay and feel like they've made that choice to stay as a counselor. But I guess the most important thing that I can do is to let them know that regardless, whatever decision they make, even if it's a decision that I wish they had made differently, I will still be there as a support person. I don't have to support the actual decision that they've made to be a supportive person for them and it's not my decision to make. They probably know a lot of things that I don't know about that relationship and about that person that led them to make that decision. I'm in the line of work where people come to see me because some pretty horrible things have happened and they may have tried many, many things to get that relationship to change but on, but have been quite unsuccessful by the time they come to see me. So I can honestly say from my experience, I haven't known a lot of women who have stayed in those relationships where the relationships have improved. I'm not saying that it never occurs, but it's not something that I have had a lot of experience in discovering. And I think part of that is because for that change to occur, the person who perpetrated those behaviors has to well and truly take responsibility for what they've done. And I don't think that's something that many perpetrators of intimate partner sexual violence, um, are willing to do.Speaker 3:
Because I've been doing this work for a long time and I work in a neighborhood setting. I have seen, I've worked with women from all different backgrounds and cultures and religious settings. Sometimes it does make a difference. Um, I'm not an expert on culture and religion, but I know that sometimes these factors do have an impact on women. For example, you might come from a strict religious background, were talking about sex is something that's not okay. And that can be, I guess, a barrier and going to get help because if you think that what's happening, even though it's horrible and painful and you're feeling humiliated by it, but you think that's what everybody else just goes through, this is part of marriage. That's a huge barrier to getting help. I think it's also really important to note that even though there are these barriers that sometimes occur or we think about differences, there's also a lot that's not so different. Um, so I'm always a bit cautious when I'm thinking in terms of cultural and religious differences because I think there's more similarities than differences and in our society, another complication is that for many of these women, they're extremely isolated. They don't even have family or friends over here and they may not even speak the language. So helping women to break that isolation will be really important part of their recovery. A lot of people ask me how I can, you know, still do this work after so long and not burn out and I still feel incredibly passionate about this work. Hopefully you can hear that in my voice and probably what has influenced me the most and keeps me going in this work is that I get to be a witness to seeing so many women take control back over their lives. And that is very powerful. Just listening to the five women with lived experience of Ips v who've given their time and their energy to be part of this series to me just demonstrates immense strength and tenacity to be able to get through such challenging times and be willing to give back. They really and really wanting to give back and do something that they hope will make a difference to somebody out there who's listening to these podcasts. So really I get to meet and work with amazing women all the time. I think I'm pretty lucky.Speaker 1:
We hope you found this podcast interesting and informative. The women who have chosen to share their experiences have done so in the hope of helping other women and better equipping workers and professionals to provide more effective responses. We think the women for lending their voice and giving us their time. This podcast is number five in our five part series, looking at intimate partner sexual violence. If you're listening to this podcast and would like additional support, please contact your local domestic violence or sexual assault service or for legal advice at community legal service. A transcript of this podcast can be found on our website. Please be aware that this podcast was produced in Queensland, Australia, and legal information provided is based on Queensland legislation and law. His podcast was made possible due to funding from legal aid, Queensland Community Legal Education Collaboration Fund. If you found this podcast useful and relevant, we encourage you to listen to the other four in this series.