Suzanne Martin current programme coordinator writes about the programme now in its second year:
About 10 years back I had been experimenting with different ways of mainstreaming learning on violence and abuse whilst lecturing at the University of Kent. We ran a couple of modules as part of the MA in mental health studies and students gave some very positive feedback. These modules also attracted workers who were struggling to find ways of helping the abused people they encountered in mental health services. So it was clear that although some people wanted to gain a qualification we also had interest from practitioners in search of better interventions. I knew that the time had come for a whole programme of study focused on domestic violence and sexual abuse and I went in search of a university innovative enough to give it a go.
The Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies (STaCS) at Goldsmiths College London welcomed the idea of developing a programme like this. Academics in STaCS had a real commitment to examining problems like domestic violence and sexual abuse in more depth. Most of their courses already included some teaching on these issues, from a range of different perspectives. And all the staff here are excellent on anti-discriminatory practice and explore ways to respond to the various inequalities we see around us in the health and social care field. It was clear that the staff team would be able to come together to help give the programme its strong multi-disciplinary character.
At around the time we started planning the content and getting academic approval the issue of coercive control got added to the UK domestic abuse legislation. We had already decided that it was possible to use the concept of coercive control to link domestic violence and sexual abuse. Coercive control is so characteristic of abusive relating patterns that it made sense to focus on it. Holding that focus demanded that we took a psychological perspective – coercion is after all a behaviour motivated by a powerful psychological need for control. We were also hearing more and more requests from services for ways of identifying and documenting coercive control. There may be legislation that tackles coercive control but proving its occurrence in ways that satisfy a court remains a challenge.
The bringing together of sexual abuse and domestic violence into one programme of study was also an important decision. We felt that the division of these two closely related forms of gendered abuse reflected the needs of services rather than the needs of service users. Given the cross over between types of abuse in intimate relationships many of us felt uneasy with the clear demarcation between sexual and domestic violence. But we think its important to create a space where we can continue to have debates about the pros and cons of dividing the abuse field into separate service areas. This is not the only debate – we also argue about feminism; about gendered perspectives; about wat works and why. We try and critique every viewpoint to see if it offers safety to victims; holds abusers accountable and responds to social inequalities effectively.
What has proved to be so good about the programme is this continued emphasis on having the debates that tend to be uncomfortable or contentious. We built in a strong reflective component to the course along the lines of clinical supervision or staff support. I do alot of team support work in the violence and abuse field so I know how difficult it can be to stay mentally healthy and switched on to peoples needs. Violence and abuse stirs up powerful reactions in all of us and that can create enormous tensions within and between services. We wanted our students to experience group work and learn to reflect on their feelings and behaviour in a safe pace. We also wanted to help grow a work force capable of respectful communication and of valuing differences. I think we have achieved that balance.