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3.4.7.6 How does abuse influence how a survivor may present when contacting DVA?

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Last amended 
18 April 2017

How does abuse influence how a survivor may present when contacting DVA?

When a current serving member or veteran contacts DVA, the impacts of abuse on their memory and emotions may significantly influence their ability to engage with support provision and the compensation process. The client’s previous experience of help seeking will also influence how they interact with DVA staff.

The impact of memory and distress related to trauma

Distress associated with remembering the abuse can lead to clients providing limited details about what happened to them in impact statements, statutory declarations and psychiatric assessments. It can also lead to clients becoming obviously distressed or angry when they are asked to recount what happened to them. Commonly, remembering the abuse can result in the shutting down of emotions - in that case a client’s presentation of what happened to him or her can appear detached and perfunctory.

Sometimes, the distress at the time of the abuse impacts on a person’s ability to recall events accurately. It is not unusual for memories of traumatic events to be fragmented and chaotic. This can impact upon a client’s credibility as he or she may not be able to present a coherent narrative of the abuse and its impact.

In general, if a person is distressed or has a mental health disorder such as depression, alcohol dependence or PTSD, their ability to concentrate and remember events and conversations will be limited. Clients may not remember instructions or processes because of this and may appear chaotic or uncooperative as a result.

The impact of stigma and emotions

People who have been abused have had their sense of safety and trust in other people taken away. Victim blaming by the community, family members or professionals (e.g. ‘why didn’t she leave the ADF?’) can compound a survivor’s lack of trust in others. This can mean that trusting service providers, particularly those they perceive to have authority or power over their life is difficult. If you are in a position in which you can assess someone, or are seen to facilitate a process that will determine his or her future, you are in a position of power and that can be frightening for many clients. Many people deal with loss of trust and fear by becoming suspicious, withdrawing or becoming angry and aggressive. This can lead to confrontational behaviour or avoiding engaging with service providers (e.g. not returning phone calls; not opening mail; shouting or threatening).

Strong emotions that result from having experienced abuse can also get in the way of having a positive relationship with service providers. Many clients will have difficulty containing anxiety and or anger. Often, they will deal these emotions by avoiding them. This again may lead to not returning phone calls, not filling in paper work or not turning up to appointments.