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What Does a Domestic Violence Social Worker Do?

June 26, 2023

Domestic violence, sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a complex and pervasive problem that affects millions. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men have experienced domestic violence and reported it at some point in their lives. Domestic violence can have long-term physical, mental and emotional consequences for victims, including chronic health issues, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although domestic violence and intimate partner violence are often used interchangeably, IPV specifically refers to abuse — physical, emotional or sexual — that occurs in a romantic relationship. Domestic violence, however, can be used more broadly to refer to any abuse that occurs between members of a household. Social workers who address either form of abuse are generally referred to as domestic violence social workers.

Domestic violence social workers can be instrumental in helping those who have experienced domestic violence or IPV rebuild their lives. They can positively impact individuals and communities through interventions and services such as counseling and therapy, facilitating access to resources and support such as legal aid, and advocating for policy changes and social justice initiatives.

Those who seek to help prevent domestic violence and support survivors should consider the benefits of earning an advanced degree in social work, which can help them build the skills and knowledge needed to make a difference. 

Impact of Domestic Violence 

IPV can include physical assault, battery, sexual assault, economic abuse, and emotional or psychological abuse. It is a power and control pattern in which one intimate partner attempts to intimidate and harm the other and can vary in severity and frequency. Statistics on domestic violence show that people can be subjected to abuse regardless of age, background or identity. 

In addition to the immediate physical and mental harm it causes, domestic violence can have an economic cost. The physical and psychological toll on those who experience domestic violence can prevent them from working or limit the work they can do. Similarly, those stuck in an abusive relationship may be unable to support themselves outside of those situations financially and may feel trapped.

Domestic violence and IPV can also have long-term effects on physical and mental health, potentially resulting in chronic health problems, substance misuse and mental health disorders. According to the World Health Organization, children who are witnesses to domestic violence are more likely to have behavioral problems and lower academic achievement, and may go on to replicate the same unhealthy dynamics in their own relationships.

The Role of Domestic Violence Social Workers 

One of the primary ways social workers support those who have experienced domestic violence is through counseling and support services. Domestic violence can cause long-lasting psychological trauma, and social workers are equipped to provide emotional support and guidance to help them heal. Domestic violence social workers can also help survivors develop safety plans, establish healthy boundaries, and build their self-esteem and confidence.

When children are involved in domestic violence cases, social workers can play a crucial role in ensuring their safety and well-being. They can connect children and their families with child welfare resources and services to provide a safer living environment. 

Additionally, social workers can support those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence by connecting them with legal resources, such as victim advocates or lawyers, to obtain protective orders or file for divorce.

In addition to providing direct services, domestic violence social workers can advocate for survivor programs and work with policymakers to develop and implement laws and policies that protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

How to Become a Domestic Violence Social Worker

Earning a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as social work, psychology or sociology is the first step toward becoming a domestic violence social worker. These programs introduce students to social work concepts, research methods and social welfare policy. Degrees may also offer coursework on diversity and oppression, social work ethics, and human rights.

While entry-level roles may be available with a bachelor’s degree, pursuing a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree can help individuals refine their skills and hone their expertise in social work practices to qualify for more advanced roles, such as a clinical social worker. 

An M.S.W. is a prerequisite for becoming a clinical social worker, along with supervised hours in a clinical setting and passing the licensure exam. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) can offer specialized support, long-term treatment and clinical therapy.

In addition to formal education and training, domestic violence social workers should possess soft skills, including strong interpersonal communication and an ability to empathize and show compassion. 

Support Those Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence 

Domestic violence social workers play a crucial role in supporting and advocating for those who have experienced domestic abuse. They provide counseling and connect clients with legal and community resources to help them find safety and stability. Those passionate about helping others and positively impacting their community should consider the online Master of Social Work Program format at Virginia Commonwealth University.

With the flexibility and convenience of an online format, you can pursue your degree while balancing work, family and other responsibilities. The M.S.W. Program also offers field placement opportunities, allowing students to gain real-world experience while earning their degrees. Discover how you can make a difference and take the next step toward a fulfilling career in social work.