The risk of secondary victimization - which implications for child protection social work practices?
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The qualitative field study carried out in 2017 in social services in South Tirol – Northern Italy, focuses on the analysis of the relation between mothers who survived gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection social workers (CPSW), taking into account the risk of secondary victimization dynamics. The issue emerged is based on ten years of working experience as a social worker in a women's shelter where I was repeatedly in the situation to mediate the difficult relation between CPSW and the help-seeking mother. Several different international researches show that the often problematic responses of CPSW are very similar (e.g. Keeling & Wormer, 2012; Johnson & Sullivan, 2008; Bourassa, Lavergne et.al., 2008). The observed link between gender-based violence, dynamics of secondary victimization and societies, which are organized according to patriarchal values, appeared as an important way of reading the findings. Therefore, the results of the modern matriarchal studies (Göttner-Abendroth, 2011), as also critical analyses of the attributions on motherhood and the consequences for survivors of GBV were considered (Federici, 2015; Strasser, 2011; Macdonald, 2009). The starting point was a field investigation composed by several informal exchanges with peers (staff members of a women’s shelter), combined with a structured interview with a peer and two women who survived GBV and were blamed for it by their CPSW. Afterwards, problem-centered guided interviews with seven CPSW followed, which were analyzed according to five extracted main categories, describing different shapes of secondary victimization dynamics as also examples of best practice. The results explain the double risk of secondary victimization mothers who survived GBV might face, linked to the fact of being a "good" mother and their ability to behave as a "good" victim. Additionally, it was also possible to identify protective elements, which can be translated into methods and techniques for social work practice, helping to avoid these dynamics building up a more supportive relationship.