In partnership with leaders in the field of family violence counselling, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter has embraced a unique “response based approach” to support victims of family violence. This approach was developed by Canadian family therapist and researcher, Dr. Allan Wade and his colleagues, Dr. Linda Coates and Nick Todd. Since then, the approach has been broadened to include our programs for children and youth as well as male perpetrators.
The response based approach honours the many ways women and children resist abuse. We also use the response-based approach when counselling male abusers. The response-based approach sees abuse as deliberate and a choice on the part of the abuser.
Whenever people are abused, they do many things to oppose the abuse and to keep their dignity and their self-respect. This is called resistance. The resistance might include not doing what the perpetrator wants them to do, standing up against the perpetrator, and trying to stop or prevent violence, disrespect, or oppression. Imagining a better life may also be a way that victims resist abuse. Many people believe victims of domestic violence share some common “effects” of abuse by their intimate partners. They make an assumption that victims passively accept violence, and lack self-esteem, assertiveness, or boundaries. Much attention is paid to these “effects” of violence. Unfortunately, this leads people to have a stereotyped, negative view of victims.
Resistance is often not obvious
Abuse can be very dangerous, so usually victims resist in ways that are not obvious. Others probably will not even notice the resistance so they assume that victims are “passive” and “they do not do enough to stand up for themselves.” In fact, victims actively resist violence, and in real life, the so-called “passive” victim does not exist. For instance, some women will resist their partner’s abuse by leaving the house even though they have been forbidden to do so. Knowing this, some men will try to stop this resistance by taking shoes, money, bankcards and car keys. Others might pull the phone out of the wall to prevent their partner from calling for help.
Abuse undermines resistance
The fact that perpetrators make plans to stop victims from resisting indicates that their abuse is deliberate. Perpetrators also make decisions about how they will be abusive. For example, some men think it is “wrong to hit a woman”, but they will push, grab and verbally abuse their partners. Much attention is focused on trying to understand the reasons people are abusive. For example, it has been suggested that perhaps people are abusive because they themselves were abused as children, or they have mental health disorders. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to excusing perpetrators from responsibility for their behavior. It is our experience in working with perpetrators that they are in control of their actions, and that they make deliberate choices about their abusive behavior. We believe perpetrators can, at any point in time, choose to change and to behave respectfully towards others.
Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships (Click to download PDF)