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On the frontline of gambling harm and intimate partner violence

Main Inside Game_1984x808_Jacinta

Jacinta Crealy

Gambler’s Help therapeutic and financial counsellors are on the frontline when gambling harm and intimate partner violence (IPV) converge.

Foundation-funded Recognition and responses to IPV in Gambler’s Help services: A qualitative study draws attention to the role gambling help services can play in identifying and addressing IPV as one part of a multi-sector response to these issues.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) is a not-for-profit organisation that brings together research on domestic and family violence and sexual assault across Australia. In 2020, it released a significant report, The relationship between gambling and domestic violence against women.

It's all part of building the evidence base to inform the development of effective programs and support services.

The ANROWS report found that some service providers, as well as the community, lack awareness about the link between gambling and IPV. In terms of service delivery, screening and integrated responses for gambling problems and IPV were found to be limited.

It's all part of building the evidence base ...

Three years down the track, however, awareness by service providers of the intersecting issues is steadily increasing.

In May 2023, Financial Counselling Victoria ran family violence awareness training for financial counsellors that looked at the areas of intake, assessment, casework and referral pathways.

And Latrobe Community Health Service Gambler’s Help therapeutic counsellor Jacinta Crealy reports that her service has trained all its counsellors, including Gambler’s Help therapeutic and financial counsellors, in the family violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework. This is a comprehensive screening and assessment tool devised by the Victorian Government.

‘We are well versed at our agency in those processes,’ she says, but awareness of gambling harm and IPV and how they act on each other can still be low among clients.

Clinical complexity

Jacinta explains that the stigma, shame and secrecy attached to gambling and IPV as experienced by Latrobe’s Gambler’s Help clients can lead to difficulties naming these issues.

Clients confronting both are likely to experience other complicating factors, such as co-occurring mental health and psychosocial issues, as well as intersecting cultural issues. Poverty often features too, with clients in a tight situation reporting that they gamble to try to get money.

When Jacinta considers how violence and gambling impact on the levers of the family, she notes the ubiquity of depression and anxiety – ‘a massive horrible spiral’.

‘… they identify control, including coercive control, as culturally familiar.’
Jacinta Crealy

‘In multicultural communities, people may already be under pressure navigating Australian social and cultural norms,’ she says. ‘Women should be able to let their guard down in their own home, but that’s the very place where they may experience abuse.

‘And they may not even know they’re being abused if they identify control, including coercive control, as culturally familiar. They say, “It’s ok. He’s alright.”’

She believes it’s important to name and bring to the surface that this is domestic violence. ‘But “abuse” can be a slap-in-the-face word. I use “control”.’

Jacinta also tells of perpetrators attending court-mandated counselling as a box-ticking exercise only. ‘There’s no personal growth,’ she says. ‘They’re there for the attendance reports only.’

Domestic violence on the radar

While strategies that promote the identification of IPV are vital, so is the provision of physically, emotionally and culturally safe places for disclosure in gambling help services. (Paradoxically, pokies venues can function as ‘safe places’ away from a violent home; an escape.)

For Jacinta, a critical factor in creating confidence that counselling is a safe place relates to the quality of the engagement.

‘If you’re engaged from the first session, you’ll pick up the red flags,’ she says. ‘They’ll be popping up all over the place.

‘We’re not a mediation service or couples therapy.’
Jacinta Crealy

‘People are most hesitant to reveal physical and sexual abuse. As a counsellor, you have to pick up on the innuendo, but I pull back if they pull back because otherwise you can lose the client.

‘The careful development of the therapeutic relationship is crucial in helping women seek the right help when they are ready to do so.’

While some couples may propose attending counselling sessions together, counsellors are well aware that this can be prime territory for perpetrators of family violence to orchestrate apparent ‘collusion’.

When truth within a relationship is compromised and manipulation and gaslighting are rife, even the nod of a counsellor’s head, meaning ‘I’m listening,’ can be maliciously interpreted as, ‘I endorse your point of view. I’m on the perpetrator’s side’.

‘We’re not a mediation service or couples therapy,’ says Jacinta. ‘If we identify conflict in a couple, we recommend they see separate counsellors so they can open up.’

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