Partnered with a Survivor: David Mandel and Ruth Reymundo Mandel

Season 3 Episode 3: Minisode on Worker Safety & Well Being: When Workers Have Their Own Histories of Abuse

February 06, 2022 Season 3 Episode 3
Partnered with a Survivor: David Mandel and Ruth Reymundo Mandel
Season 3 Episode 3: Minisode on Worker Safety & Well Being: When Workers Have Their Own Histories of Abuse
Show Notes Transcript

In this fifth installment of the  minisode series on worker safety and well-being, Ruth and David discuss the prevalence of histories of abuse amongst professionals and how agencies can proactively shape their human resources, training and supervision to this reality. One of the main takeaways from this episode is that having staff who have abuse histories can be a real asset for an agency that addresses domestic violence in the families they serve. 

Research shows that a variety of professionals include health and child welfare have significant prevalence rates for histories of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse and neglect. McLindon, Humphreys and Hegarty found  in one study of female personnel at medical facility in Australia that  at  "....45.2% (212) of participants reported violence by a partner and/or family member during their lifetime, with 12.8% (60) reporting both. "    A Spanish study found that a " total of 1,039 health professionals participated in the study. Of these, 26% had suffered some type of abuse. Among the men, this prevalence was 2.7%, while among the women, it was 33.8%."  A 2003 United States study found that 1/2 of child protection workers had histories of intimate partner violence. 

David & Ruth discuss the significance of this data including:

  • the research suggesting that workers with histories of abuse may be more sensitive to the issue, including working harder to keep children with survivors 
  •  But can also lead to victim blaming, collusion with perpetrators, lack of engagement with perpetrators, fears and stress

Keeping with their solution focused approach, David & Ruth discuss what agencies can do including: 

  • Build policies and training to reflect the assumption  that staff includes survivors of domestic violence
  • Review HR and Employee Assistance Programs to see if this is an identified issue
  • Develop communications and supervision strategies that start with new workers around their own histories and how to take care of themselves
    • Name indicators or areas of concern 
      • Fears and resistance around engaging perpetrators as part of job 
      • Victim blaming 
      • Symptoms of stress like self medicating
      • Rigid views on issues of domestic violence
      • Aggressive and abusive behaviors toward colleagues or client
  • Look to use lived experience experts on your staff as a resource
    • Create an employee lived experience advisory group that allows survivors to provide input as both survivors and professionals into agency policy and practice
    • Create a confidential peer support network—lived experience experts who are trained to help other survivors on staff, supporting each other to bring their "A" game to work
    • Train supervisors to keep focus on professional behavior while supporting workers to get the help they need. 

Mieko Yoshihama, Linda G Mills. When is the personal professional in public child welfare practice?: The influence of intimate partner and child abuse histories on workers in domestic violence cases. Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 27, Issue 3, 2003, Pages 319-336.

McLindon, E., Humphreys, C., & Hegarty, K. (2018). “It happens to clinicians too”: An Australian prevalence study of intimate partner and family violence against health professionals. BMC Women’s Health, 18(1), 113.

Carmona-Torres JM, Recio-Andrade B, Rodríguez-Borrego MA. Intimate partner violence among health professionals: distribution by autonomous
communities in Spain. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 2017;51:e03256. DOI:

To listen to other minisodes in this series

And we're back and we're back, OK? You are listening to a partnered with a survivor, many sowed yes, on worker safety. We took a little hiatus and we 

would like to say 

that we did what we did not 

exactly taking a hiatus when we take a 

hiatus. No, but this is a 

means we got so busy that we didn't have time to record a podcast, 

but we did. Other episodes screened the other work. So this is part of the series doing it right and our workers safety. And I'm David Mandel, the executive director of the Safety Tether Institute. 

And I'm Rooster's Mandel and I'm the e-learning, communications and strategic relationship manager. 

And these are sure many sewed 15 minute or so episodes on a topic, and this is the fourth of what we think of three five Minnesota on worker safety well-being. 

And if you have any suggestions for topics of many episodes in the future, please let us know. 

And we've already covered when workers are targeted by the perpetrator of one of their clients. That was one episode we we talked about the connection between worker safety and engaging perpetrators in mother blaming. And the third one was about when workers are being targeted, they're they're being victimized themselves by a partner currently in. And it's impacting the workplace, their workplace performance and in what to do about that. And then this many. So and I like to think about when I say the word is, is when workers past history of abuse, 


abuse. That's right. Not something they're going through currently, at least actively right is is is present and is is something agencies need to think about. And I just want to say this by the outset. One is the two big takeaway messages here for me is this is extremely common and we're going to give some statistics about this and it is not a deficit. I mean, I think I think that's sort of the headline, I think. Yeah, I think I would 

so much I would hate for people in H.R. departments to start identifying people who have trauma as being problematic. That's right. Right. 

And so we're going to talk about it. But I really want to kind of give you the the bottom line here, which is. Being somebody with lived experience of intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or even child abuse, neglect and working in mental health, working in addiction, working in child welfare, working in the legal profession is not a deficit, right? 

And also you cannot assume that of survivor working in those environments is traumatic for them. It may be empowering. It may feel healing. There may be a lot of different complex experiences involved. Nobody is linear. People are complex and contradictory. 

Contradictory, right? So let me give you some stats. And you know, this is just, you know, some of the ideas that are out there and there's not enough work been done in this this area, to be honest. But one study that was done in Australia looking at health professionals, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals have done by my friend and colleague Cathy Humphreys and her team, you know, McLendon and Hegarty. They found that 45 percent of participants reported violence by a partner or a family member during their lifetime. OK, so that's in a in a medical setting. And this is, you know, similar to a study done in Spain, you know where 26 percent of the the medical professional health professionals had experienced some type of excuse abuse or lifetime? Mm hmm. And then, you know, going back to 2003, there was a study of child protection workers in the US that showed half. Of the sample had histories of intimate partner violence. 

Right, and I would like to point out, I know that some of these some of these research pieces where physical violence and emotional abuse the choice of control. But it sounds like the framing was mostly physical violence is so I wonder if the numbers are much, much higher. 

The numbers may be higher. And I think all these things, like all these studies, the samples have their weaknesses and strengths have to be careful about generalizing them. But you know, the takeaway for me is when we look at this is one, we need to be thinking about this more and looking at it right? And I'll say in a few minutes for agencies, they need to assume. That this is prevalent in a significant portion of their of their population. 

That's right. 

Yeah, it's for me. It's sort of when you want to be domestic violence informed as an agency. Some of what you're doing is you're looking at how do you respond to clients and families and domestic brands of families, but how much of it is very much on your staff? 

So, so what I would what I would like to put a pin in? Yeah, is that particularly for child protection staff or people who are working within the domestic violence field or working with children and families, that unresolved trauma? Can create a lot of pressures inside of ourselves to respond to situations that feel similar to our abuse and our danger. Well, not actually truly assessing the present moment reality of what's going on. And so allowing that trauma to interfere in our perceptions of alarm and danger is not an acceptable thing for taking care of families. We have to be able to assess in an independent way and say, here are the behaviors of this instance of this family and be able to separate out a little bit our own trauma. 

So I'm going to I'm going to speak to the professional part because I think you're saying that systems have a responsibility to survivors not to 

to actually have active H.R. training about how to not allow your trauma right from past abuse to influence your decision making in the present. 

So what I'm going to say is the good news is in these studies, they actually point to greater sensitivity in a positive way. And also, you know, with child welfare workers that they're more likely to want to keep those kids good with with with survivors. But but I think, like we said earlier, complex and contradictory, I don't think that's the whole story. I think your point is it will often get families with 

bad experiences when you've been training workers where their stuff has been translated into judgments about women. And I think there's one that you talk about very prevalent, though. Do you remember the one that you 

abunch of them? And I think one and she didn't identify as a survivor, but I have suspicions she was. But she said women are making women, are staying with abusive men, are making women look bad. Right? You know, I mean, there was there was that and then there was another one who she she had gone out of a horrendous domestic abuse situation and was almost killed, it sounded like and and her view was, I did it. So she can't too, right? 

So there was a lack of empathy because she was successful. And the assumption that everybody else is experience is going to be similar if she can do it than everybody else to do it. That's right. That's that's an attitude that's rife within the domestic violence field. If I can do it, if other women can get out, you can, too. You're not trying hard enough and that's not OK. 

And there was a young man who was a new worker and he had a dad who had been violent to us, to his mom, at least. And and he was going on a home visit with a perpetrator the first time in a professional setting. And he disclosed to me he's worried he was either going to freeze up or go over the table, this guy. So you said H.R. and I think for me and I wanted to go bigger, I want to go bigger. 

No, I totally get that. But I just want to say something about that incident. Is that in and of itself? Many organizations can take that person's disclosure as as a sign of a problem, right? Rather than as the need for that organization to give that person tools in order for them to be able to navigate that trauma and do their job well. 

Well, you just you just pointed me in the direction I was going, and you're often the one who's like, do that very well. You did really well. And I think you're often the one who wants to go bigger and that today I'm going to go bigger because it's not H.R., it's H.R.. And I think agencies. Work off of explicit but often implicit template of what a standard worker is like, you know, you have a medical care, a standard patient, right? You know, when you do training and you have this idea, oh, here's a standard patient, and we're going to do scenarios. And I think human service agencies, I think, lead the legal profession, to be honest as well. I think lots of different addiction, mental health, that training, whether it's university or whether it's professional training that. The standard professional that we're envisioning in front of us has to be envisioned as a professional with a history of abuse that they've experienced themselves 

right and that they've drawn conclusions and assumptions from that abuse. And they have they have habits which impact teams potentially not always the case because a lot of times what happens like you said, if, if, if somebody is awareness and understanding that these situations exist and they're difficult to navigate and there is no easy answer, then they become more empathetic to the to the diversity of experience and the diversity of needs for survivors. If they land in a place where they have universalized, their trauma and their experience and they see through only that lens, they will harm survivors that do not look like them. 

So what I want to take is what you're saying is because you're you're pointing us towards the dangers, right? And I want to point. As to the responsibility of agencies in the field, yeah, to provide support and guidance to workers around these issues, because if, if if we recognize that the standard quote unquote professional is somebody who's likely to have their own experience of trauma and we're putting them in the field to work with families around violence that it's negligent to not have a training. And supervision, set of strategies and agency policy strategies that actually look at these things. And look one for the strength in those workers around those experiences and then also looking where they're where they're struggling to provide them with support. So, so so I think that we've identified that to kind of summarize that people can be more sensitive, they can be more intuitive, they can be more compassionate, but they also can be more victim blaming. They be collusive with perpetrators. They can lack engagement with perpetrators. So I mean, we're, you know, if I am growing up in a household with my dad was violent or had an ex-partner was abusing her, never change, right? I mean, every perpetrator is somebody who's not going to change. 

Or if I grew up in a household that was violent and I made a judgment that it was one party that the protective party, the person who was not part not being violence, responsibility to take care of me and protect me, and I didn't feel that I was taking care of and protected. I can easily blame the protective party. 

That's right. That's right. You can project. So all these things, when you know one is on one hand, we have people who have greater sensitivity awareness. We also have may have people with unfinished business that need support. So here's some ideas for agencies and systems, OK? First is assume staff includes survivors of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect 

and sexual 

violence, and just really just assume that and reflect upon what that means for the health and well-being in the practice of those agencies. Okay. With you, human resources employee assistance to see if this is an identified and named issue, it's really very basic. You know, is is do you have resources to you name, do you need services for this? Do you encourage people to get help for it? And and and this is important for this to start. And we want to because it's the third thing for agencies to develop communications and supervision strategies that start with new workers around their own histories and how to take care of themselves. And I think this is really tricky. But but but so important, which is you don't single people out. You're not saying, Hey, you, you're not 

saying, Hey, you, you're a survivor. Therefore, we need to. We need to do extra work with you. 

You're creating a culture, an environment where people feel safe to disclose. And I think I think what I've seen is people feel like talking about these things can be perceived as a weakness, right, and can be perceived as disqualifying them from doing the work that they talk about. 

Because that is the attitude in many for you and many, many aspects of the field that domestic violence survivors are thought to be biased and they're thought to not be able to be capable of doing the job right appropriately. 

That's right. And so and to name the indicators, I mean, again, to operationalize this, you know, work with supervisors, work with managers, talk about this, which is, you know, here indicators that you may have stuff to work on fears and resistance, eradicating perpetrators when it's part of your job. Victim blaming when it when it's not tied to the reality of somebody, you know, engaging in hurtful behaviors. But really, you know, doing that. Symptoms of stress like self-medicating, you know, people who you know who the job is there, they're white knuckling it. They're doing their jobs. Yeah, and drinking after work. 

Iwould probably add some other, some other points in here, to be honest with you, that don't just have to do with the individual behavior. Yeah, but have to do with the team behavior. If you have somebody who is aggressive in command and control somebody who is traumatized by by differing positions and different understandings of the family dynamic, right? Someone who's locked down in a position that is that that obviously is is in a state of alarm where they feel like this is, you know, you really need to observe the way that they work, not just it's not just their own manifestations of trauma, it's entire team manifestations. 

Trauma manager or supervisor could be in a could they could. Yeah. And then the last thing you know which you really want to encourage is is is looking at staff who are lived, experienced experts as a resource. Right. And this is something we're really trying to promote. And in general, we think policy, you know, Safer Together Institute, we really invest in survivalist solutions, right? But we think agencies and organizations really need to be thinking about. We've got employees who are both trained professionals and lived experience experts. How are we using them right to our best advantage? Right? As part of our team, 

right, how are we? How are we using their insights and abilities in in order to expand our understanding of practice? But also, I want to I want to say something very clearly. Being a lived experience expert does not mean necessarily that you're doing good practice. That's right. And that has to be said very clearly. Being a lived experience expert doesn't. Automatically mean that you are a person who can collaborate with others. And build understanding. And build better practices, some people who have lived experience experts use their survivor status as a tool of coercion and a bludgeon to get people to do what they want. And that is a behavioral pattern of command and control. And people should be able to see it when it happens. 

And I think what you're saying is that that agencies need to approach this issue of lived experience experts and their staff with a set of criteria and and sort of that you're looking for people who have done their work who can say 

you're looking for people who are in alignment with your values, right? Your culture, your mission and vision, honor and respect. Other people's positions and expertize can collaborate together and are not locked down into singular solutions in a violent and controlling way. 

OK, so we're talking about advisory groups where survivors can provide input as survivors and professionals and agency policy and practice. We're talking about creating confidential peer support, you know, lived experience experts who are trained to help other survivors on staff supporting each other by bringing their A-game to work. So for me, this is really important. This isn't just about it's about the well-being of the human and the professional, but it's about like what you said. The beginning is to make sure that they're able to see what's in front of their face with this family and not allow it to be wrongly colored by their past experiences and then to train supervisors to keep focus on professional behavior while supporting workers to get the help they need. And for me, when I see it's support supervisors, managers who are dealing with a worker who is clearly bringing their own stuff in. Right? You know, I sit and look, you know, you can't really dove into somebody's personal history. They've got to come to you with it. But you can keep your focus on this is good professional behavior. That's bad professional behavior. And if you can't focus on what the family needs, you may need to figure out how you get there. And that may mean going to the police assistance program or whatever else or talking to me and supervision. But but again, keeping the behavioral focus of what good domestic violence of one practice looks like, right? 

Which is partnering with survivors. That's right, which is which is gathering and viewing the information as it exists in real time, not as you would determine it to be through the lens of your trauma or your fears. That's right. 

So, so this is we're wrapping hippie wrap up now. That was me getting cotton, you know, so not be able to speak. So we're wrapping up here. Just so just to summarize, you know, highly prevalent in in primary any agency organization you're working in histories of of abuse, victimization. Second thing is, this is not a problem, right? 

They're not bad workers. It could be a benefit. 

That's right. Can be a benefit. We also need to purchase with complex and nuanced. Like you said, somebody who's survivor doesn't make them automatically an asset to your organization, right? Or it depends on their behavior. It depends on their 

behaviors where we live 

in behavior. That's right. And then lastly, agencies really need to be thoughtful and proactive around addressing this issue, supporting workers, creating support networks, using lived experience experts to advise them. Right. So we really, really hope that people can take this to heart. So this is a little bit longer. Minnesota. Sorry, that was me. My vote. That's OK. I'm David Mandel, the executive director of the Safety Other Institute. 

And I'm Ruth Stearns Mandel and I am the e-learning, communications and strategic relationship manager. 

And if you'd like this, please share with other people. You can find this on any of your your podcast platforms. You can follow me on Twitter at David G. Mandel. You can follow you at Twitter. Yes, they can 

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