Challenges and Resources of Survivors of Domestic Violence
Sarah Clark & Sherry Hamby
Department of Psychology, Sewanee, the University of the South
Abstract
Advocacy for battered women often focuses on physical
danger, but more attention needs to be paid to other
familial, financial, and emotional risks. Research to date
has likewise paid little attention to victims’ strengths and
resources that can help with coping. 103 women from
two sites in two southern states provided their perceptions
of their risks and resources in a semi-structured format.
Site 1 included current and recent shelter residents; Site 2
was a community support group for battered women.
Although the risk of physical danger was reported by
almost half (48%) of the sample and nearly 1 in 6 (16.5%)
reported a fear of being murdered, many other risks were
common. Concerns about children’s safety and wellbeing
were reported by 43%, financial security issues by 53%,
lack of social support by 44%, family rejection by 27%,
and fear of losing custody by 27%. Despite the high
reports of lack of social support and family rejection,
family and friends were nonetheless two of the most
commonly reported strengths (54% and 42%). Having
faith (46%) and their church community (49%) were also
commonly mentioned, as was having a job (40%).
Implications for improving risk assessment and safety
planning will be presented.
Results
Results (Cont’d)
Risks and Challenges
Resources and Strengths
Most women reported serious fears for their own
physical safety. Almost 1 in 5 women reported a serious
fear of being murdered by their partner.
Percentage of survivors reporting fear
for own physical safety
%
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
47.6
16.5
Physical Abuse
Murder
Besides fearing for themselves, survivors also reported
serious fears for the well-being of their family and,
particularly, (of those that had them) their children.
Participants reported various personal resources and
strengths, the most common of which was faith.
Percentage of Survivors
ReportingPersonal Resouces
100
90
80
70
60
% 50
40
30
20
10
0
Introduction
Advocacy for battered women often focuses on
physical danger, but more attention need to be paid to
other familial, financial, and emotional risks (Davies,
2008). Survivors of domestic violence face a complex
array of problems that often endure after immediate
physical danger has been addressed. Research to date has
likewise paid little attention to victims’ strengths and
resources that can help with coping (Hage, 2006; Hamby
& Gray-Little, 2007). Current safety planning
emphasizes leaving as the only option, but each
individual has different needs may make this more
difficult, including considerations about financial
security and custody of children. These other problems
need to be addressed as well.
Method
103 people (98% female) with histories of intimate
partner violence participated in the study. Participants
were of various ages (28% 18-25, 25% 26-30, 18% 3135, 9% 36-40, 20% 40 and older) Participants were
African-American (54%), White/Caucasian (26%),
Hispanic (11%), Native American (9%), and other (1%).
Most of the women had children (91%).
Participants were recruited from two sites in two
Southern states. They provided their perceptions of their
risks and resources in a semi-structured format. Site 1
(76% of sample) included current and recent shelter
residents. Site 2, on the other hand, was a community
support group for battered women. Responses were then
coded using a boot-strapping method and analyzed.
Participants were given a gift card to thank them for
their participation.
%
43.7
Faith
Self-Esteem
70
17.5
60
%
50
39.8
40
Family
30
20
25.2
19.4
17.5
10
0
Housing
Job
TANF
Savings
Most women reported some type of social support,
the most common of which included family and
church. Many also endorsed shelters and support
groups as strong resources in their lives.
53.4
27.2
23.3
Employment
19.4
Percentage of Survivors Reporting Social
Resoures
Debt/Bills
Housing
Percentage of Survivors Reporting
Psychological and Social Concerns
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
44.7
27.2
28.2
26.2
15.5
Family
Rejection
Depression
Self-Esteem
Negative
Feelings
Lack of Social
Support
100
90
80
70
60
% 50
40
30
20
10
0
Our sample is biased toward women who go to
domestic violence shelters, and are of low
socioeconomic background. Thus, these resources
and risks may not appropriately reflect the
experiences of all people subjected to domestic
violence.
Researchers need to do more to address the
concerns beyond physical safety of women who
have survived domestic violence. By understanding
various challenges and risks, domestic violence
researchers and advocates can better address the
myriad needs and create plans that go beyond simply
leaving the abusive partner and entering a shelter.
Using the information from this study, the
researchers hope to create a more effective safety
planning instrument that will combine the myriad
goals, options, resources, and risks of people
experiencing domestic violence. Further, it will
provide more extensive planning to address the
specific difficulties each individual faces.
References
Davies, J. (2008). When battered women stay....advocacy beyond leaving.
Harrisburg, PA: National Resource Center on Domestic
Violence.
Hage, S. M. (2006). Profiles of women survivors: The
development of agency in abusive relationships. Journal of
Counseling and Development, 84(1), 83-94.
Fin. Security
Participants also worried about depression and selfesteem. They also commonly reported feeling isolated
and lacking in social support.
10
0
Personal Strength
90
80
Percentage of Survivors Reporting Financial
Concerns
30
20
Health
15.5
Percentage of Survivors Reporting Financial
Resources
Survivors also faced numerous financial problems.
Worries about financial security was the most commonly
reported in the survey.
%
17.5
Women in our study reported various risks and
resources. The primary concern for most women
was, perhaps surprisingly, not their own physical
safety, but their financial security. Many of our
participants are single or separated, and supporting
themselves and their families presents a serious
challenge. Thus, many women may see returning to
an abusive partner who can support them financially
as preferable to being homeless. Many of these
concerns are not limited to immediate physical
danger, and thus simply leaving an abusive partner
does not solve them. Safety plans need to address
these continuing problems.
Despite listing numerous risks, many women
reported having a great deal of social and personal
resources as well. For many women, however, these
resources may make entering a shelter not the best
option.
100
Children
100
90
80
70
60
% 50
40
30
20
10
0
45.6
40.8
Many women also reported some financial resources,
including holding a job and having a home.
Percentage of Survivors Reporting Fear
for Other's Safety
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Discussion
Hamby, S. L., & Gray-Little, B. (2007). Can battered women
cope? A critical analysis of research on women’s responses to
violence. In K. Kendall-Tackett & S. Giacomoni (Eds.), Intimate
partner violence. Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.
54.4
48.5
41.7
41.7
30.1
Family
Church
Friends
Shelter
Support
Group
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