‘I am a survivor of domestic abuse and I am a social worker’

'One of the worst parts of my experience was not being believed by some professionals', writes Nushra Mansuri.

Photo: REX/WestEnd61 (Posed by model)

When I heard the news that Theresa May would be consulting on making domestic abuse a criminal offence, I for one let out a cheer, as this is something very close to my own heart.

I am a survivor of domestic abuse and I am a social worker.

Domestic abuse can happen to any of us regardless of our background, including what we may do for a living. I needed to consult with my GP for a sick note as a result of the impact of the abuse and the toll it was taking on me.

The doctor’s reaction when she asked me what I did for a living has stayed with me. When I told her that I was a social worker, she laughed.

Crushed

I felt completely crushed. She did not have to say anything. Her laughter conveyed to me my own sense of inadequacy and failure. How could I as a social work professional have fallen from grace and lost the apparent immunity my professional status gives me in enjoying completely safe personal relationships?

One of the worst parts of my experience was not being believed by some professionals I came into contact with. I felt at the mercy of a system that seemed at times contradictory, scary and arbitrary.

Ironically, some of the acts of commission and omission left me feeling even more vulnerable and at risk than I did prior to seeking help.

Fortunately, I did not hold onto this distortion for long and instead realised the importance of breaking the silence and speaking out on behalf of myself and others.

The Government’s latest announcement comes in conjunction with recent changes in legislation to criminalise forced marriage and the consultation on whether introducing a specific civil law measure could help protect potential victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

I believe it is important we do take measures which recognise these forms of abuse in their own right and try to do more to ensure our legal system supports those who have had their human rights violated.

We may have made some significant progress over the last few decades in understanding domestic abuse as a society and how we address it, but I still feel we have a long way to go on this particular journey.

Minefield

At times, I find myself feeling frustrated by the ambiguities that exist within our systems, services and practices which can make finding help and support such a minefield for service users.

Domestic abuse can, for example, be the business of both criminal courts and family courts but in the case of the latter, it is more likely to emerge during private family law cases and concerns raised through child arrangements applications about contact being safe or even appropriate where there are allegations of domestic abuse.

This work is then remitted to Cafcass to carry out welfare checks and if necessary, a risk assessment. However, even if the facts are established that domestic abuse has indeed taken place, there is a heavy presumption by courts that contact should still take place between the perpetrator and the children because it’s deemed to be in the best interest of the children.

Yet according to Sturge and Glaser in Contact and Domestic Violence – the Experts Court Report: “There should be no automatic assumption that contact to a previously or currently violent partner is in the child’s best interest; if anything, the assumption should be in the opposite direction.”

Both magistrates’ and family courts grant non-molestation orders to deter perpetrators from continuing to use or threaten violence against adults and children, or intimidate, harass or pester them.

Civil matter

But the order itself is a civil order and it is only its breach that can be considered a criminal offence. I remember reporting some of the incidents that I suffered to a police officer who told me that it was a civil matter and the police could not intervene. I therefore, needed to speak to my solicitor and take the matter back to court. Not much good on a Saturday night!

When I tried to formally complain, the sergeant re-iterated this position to me. My abiding memory of this was wanting to shout out there is nothing civil about domestic abuse. Instead I replied that my solicitor and the courts could not protect me 24/7 while living in the community – surely this was the remit of the police?

Because of these experiences I totally agree with the findings of the HMIC report Everyone’s Business: Improving the Police Response to Domestic Abuse published in March 2014. The report exposed significant failings, including a lack of visible police leadership and direction, poor victim care and deficiencies in basic policing.

My hope in telling my story is to be an agent of change, however small, in the process of improving society’s response to domestic abuse.

This piece was first published in the magazine for The British Association of Social Workers: Professional Social Work (PSW). Nushra Mansuri is a Professional Officer at BASW.

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6 Responses to ‘I am a survivor of domestic abuse and I am a social worker’

  1. lulu October 9, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    There needs to be help and not harsh judgement s on parents who are victims too who have never abused their children but suffer at the hands of their Children Silent ly and theories need to leave room for discussion on this subject and be far more objective . This DV is often hidden and taboo if you are a professional who has suffered.

  2. Former social care manager October 10, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Dear Nushra, Thank you for writing this article & sharing your story. I would be interested to hear what type of abuse you experienced? Just because you are a social worker does not mean you are immune to dv, sexual harassment or violence. Far from it. I commend you for taking action & getting support & sorry you had such terrible experiences. Personally, I would complain about the GP as v. Inappropriate. A Gp would not laugh if they went through it.
    I grew up surrounded by dv towards me as a child, then at school. I was sexually assaulted by an uncle & that was fine in the family!! I then suffered abuse from boyfriends & friends, as well as challenging work environments. I was in an abusive relationship when pregnant & feared would escalate to violence although verbal intimidation. I called the police. In work I confided in a social worker manager, substance abuser who then sexually harassed & assaulted me as did another colleague. Misogny, sexism is rife in society. i see the signs of abuse a lot in relationships as well as all the cases Rotherham, Jimmy Saville. My child can also be abusive but am working on this. She has practically been abandoned by her Dad who tries to bribe her to move away. I am highly qualified, multiskilled person. I have decided am best alone as healing from so much. I am starting to blog, write, develop online courses to keep us safe & do what I can to help others. Mindful yoga, mindfulness, yoga nidra, prayer & gratitude help me each day.

  3. Former social care manager October 10, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I actually trained to teach yoga & mindfulness & find it so beneficial. Anna Forrest developed Forrest yoga & that is powerful as well. I wish you the best on your healing journey. You are strong & be proud of your achievements. Yes, needs to be a criminal offence. Thankfully more training around it now. Pleased to see Patrick Stewart be a spokesperson. I receive a law blog each week re sentencing for DV & sexual violence. Need to decide if I go to court in the future. Take care

  4. Adam Roberts October 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    Nushra, what an incredibly insightful and thought provoking article. As a male student social worker I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact of domestic violence and the need to establish a dialogue that both addresses the punishment of offenders and creates an environment to challenge such oppressive behaviour. It is a tragedy that when a survivor feels able to discuss their experiences with a person of professional standing such as a GP they should receive the response that you did. Your comments highlight the need to avoid making assumptions and generalisations and to take the time to understand what an individual’s experiences mean for them.

  5. Aly October 14, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    Thank you so sincerely for this article. I was in school to be a social worker when I too experienced domestic violence in an intimate relationship. I was sexually assaulted by a coworker at a charity that I had a relationship with. I was even working and volunteering in a DV shelter at the time of the assault. I too suffered shaming and inadequate police response when this man began stalking me and making threats. I worked closely with an online community and wonderful therapist who helped me to understand that often times the same qualities that draw a person to social work (empathy, for instance) are also the same qualities that an abuser will prey upon and take advantage of. When I shared my experiences with the social work student body, MANY others came forward and shared similar circumstances.

    Anybody can be susceptible to the charms of an abuser. It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable one is. We need to stop victim shaming and spread more awareness on this matter.

    Thank you for your inspiring bravery!

  6. Penni October 16, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

    Dear Nushra,

    You have inspired me with your story and it was very brave to tell it.

    I have qualified late as a social worker but have heaps of experience including as an Education Welfare Officer 99 – 01 where 14yr olds were brought up here in the British system with all its opportunities, just to be sent back to be married in Pakistan. Many did not want this, some were subject to CP processes and some had Interpol involved.

    I am also a DV survivor and yes you can be bright and still be subject to this in any culture. The impact that this has had on my family is immense and I regret much, but my children now know I did my best in the circumstances. I moved away on Police advice and took 2 out of 3 children away with me on this advice back in 1998. I travelled every 3 weeks for years, but most of the time despite court contact orders, did not spend quality time with my eldest son with a disability. The man who is their father is a sociopath and people just don’t see this and accept what they say. I can spot one a mile off these days! I can spot behaviours across the board because of my experience!

    The wives also got younger (I was 25 years younger) but the current wife from the Philippines is under 30 and he is 72.

    My daughter 26, who has had substance misuse and mental health problems for years, recently disclosed that her father had sexually abused her during the contact sessions above.

    My family was let down, by social workers, psychologists, police and solicitors and continue to be let down, particularly by social work!

    I love my job, but it will mean something more if someone actually takes responsibility for the fact that my son should not be living with a sociopath that sexually abused his sister!