Addressing the Nexus of Intimate Partner Violence and Substance Abuse in Dependency Drug Treatment Courts

Nancy Marshall Nancy Marshall, MS, Marriage Family Therapist and Executive Director, Domestic Violence Intervention Collaborative

Summary: The relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) and substance abuse is reciprocal, and the presence of either or both are associated with an elevated risk for continuing child abuse and neglect. Incorporating domestic violence services in dependency drug treatment courts can enhance victim safety and support perpetrator accountability while supporting recovery.

In the Santa Clara County Dependency Wellness Drug Treatment Courts, 76.5% of men have a known history of intimate partner violence, and 87.1% of women have a known history of intimate partner violence. The majority of women have been victims; the majority of men have been perpetrators. Some cases involve mutual violence; a few cases involve men as victims and women as dominant aggressors.

With few exceptions, drug/alcohol use or abuse do not cause IPV, but can act as disinhibitors and escalate the levels of violence.

Domestic violence causes trauma. Victims can experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. If there is a long history of traumatic impacts, especially dating back to childhood, substance use/abuse may have become a learned way of coping with the pain and triggers associated with the trauma, and may intensify for individuals dealing with intimate partner violence.

Many victims of IPV do not recognize the tactics their batterer uses as being abusive or controlling. Subtle cues (words, gestures, facial expressions) can be significant emotional triggers for victims, and can cause flashbacks, anxiety, depression and fear. In early recovery, victims who do not yet have tools to cope with emotional flooding can be triggered to relapse. Following best practices and protocols in domestic violence cases supports and enhances victim safety while holding perpetrators accountable for their behavioral choices.

Best practices require separate case plans and services, including separate visitation with children—even when parents live together. Parents may choose to live together for a diversity of reasons. Their living together does not mean the power and control tactics have stopped or that the victim is now safe. Conjoint services should only be considered once both have successfully completed domestic violence services. Legal hearings will generally require the presence of both parents. When providing drug treatment reviews in dependency cases, best practices dictate that these reviews should be separate.

Considerations for victim safety and perpetrator accountability in dependency drug treatment courts: Schedule parents for reviews on separate days; use caution with random testing; include a domestic violence (DV) advocate or specialist as a part of the treatment team—ideally someone who is strength-based, trauma-sensitive and informed, very knowledgeable about working with both victims and perpetrators and who can be an on-site resource for domestic violence information and services.

When working with victims the DV specialist can incorporate:

  • Safety planning—including safety at court, and when entering and exiting court
  • Domestic violence education
  • Bridging clients with community resources, including sheltering, transitional housing programs, and other victim services
  • Bridging clients who qualify with the Victim Witness Assistance / Victim of Crime program for claims for victims to cover costs for therapy, relocation, or other IPV related expenses
  • Crisis intervention—before, during or after reviews, as needed

When working with perpetrators the DV specialist can:

  • Using a strength-based approach, reinforce accountability and responsibility for behavioral choices while positively reinforcing participation and progress in batterer intervention programs
  • Support recovery efforts—when appropriate, reinforce that drugs and alcohol are generally not the cause of domestic violence, but can exacerbate it

When working with the court system the DV specialist can:

  • Alert all parties about safety concerns, including cues that indicate a client may be emotionally triggered
  • Model interactions that avoid replicating power and control tactics which can trigger victims and increase resistance in perpetrators
  • Provide ongoing education and information regarding changes in local services, rules or protocols, and—when known—laws that impact victim safety, batterer accountability, and related interventions and services
  • Provide general consultation to social workers, attorneys and the drug treatment team, while being mindful of the need to preserve client safety and confidentiality
  • Encourage treatment providers to incorporate some basic information about domestic violence and victim safety in their programs, and drug and alcohol assessors to gain an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence

The relationships between drugs and alcohol and IPV are reciprocal. IPV, substance abuse, child physical/emotional/sexual abuse and/or neglect are categories of traumatic "Adverse Childhood Events" (see the ACE Study by Felitti & Anda) which, when experienced by children, place them at greatly elevated risk for the development of a whole host of emotional, behavioral, relationship, and physiological health problems throughout adulthood. Incorporating awareness of the impacts of domestic violence on emotional healing and recovery at the systems level, and addressing both issues with concurrent interventions, enhance victim safety and perpetrator accountability, support recovery efforts for both parents, and can contribute to the interruption of the generational cycles of substance abuse and IPV.

Author’s biography:

Nancy Marshall, M.S. is a marriage family therapist with over 20 years of experience specializing in domestic violence and trauma. She is the founder and director of Domestic Violence Intervention Collaborative, a 501(c)3 non-profit, incorporated to fill gaps in court-based and court-ordered services.

Marshall developed and implemented the domestic violence component for the dependency drug treatment courts in Santa Clara County, the curriculum for therapeutic groups for clients mandated to participate in victim services, and a curriculum for perpetrators who are mandated to participate in 16 week conflict and accountability programs.

Marshall served as a Commissioner on the Santa Clara County Domestic Council for 11 years, and continues to serve on numerous Council committees, including Batterer’s Intervention, Court Systems and Death Review. She has consulted with family and criminal courts on domestic violence services and protocols, has represented Santa Clara County on the California Leadership Group on Domestic Violence and Child Well Being, and actively participates and consults with related programs and services in Santa Clara County.

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