Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Pacific A (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

Barriers to Help-Seeking in Older Women Who Experience Partner Abuse: Outreach in a Multidisciplinary Context

Richard Beaulaurier, PhD, Florida International University, Laura Seff, MBA, Florida International University, Frederick L. Newman, Florida International University, and Burton D. Dunlop, Florida International University.

Social work, the court system, the aging network, law enforcement and others are involved in the identification and treatment of domestic violence against older women. Traditionally, aging services have focused primarily on neglect and financial exploitation. Domestic violence research and service networks have tended to focus on women in their child-bearing years, and rarely focus on the problems of older women who experience partner violence.

Purpose: This NIJ funded study of domestic partner abuse in older women was conducted to better understand service needs and utilization patterns of older women.

Subjects: 134 women participated in 21 focus groups in three ethnic/racial groups (Hispanic, Black, White), age cohorts (45-59, 60-74, 75+), two income levels and two victimization statuses (victim/non-victim).

Methods: Focus groups were recorded and transcribed. ATLAS.ti qualitative data analysis software, was used to organize and assist in the analysis. Preliminary codes were developed from the transcripts. Themes regarding the primary research questions were identified and named. ATLAS.ti was used to explore linkages between codes, generate themes, map relationships and ultimately to produce a testable theory grounded in the response patterns of respondents.

Results: Although most respondents were drawn from a newspaper advertisement seeking participants in a study of “conflict in relationships” which did not mention the words “abuse” or “violence” a surprising number, about 25%, of women indicated that they had been physically abused. A majority felt they had experience partner at some time.

One of the most important themes to emerge were barriers to help seeking (BHS) Eleven related concepts emerged from the data. Isolation, Jealousy, Intimidation, Protecting Family, Self-Blame, Dependent & Powerless, Spirituality, Secrecy, Hopelessness, Concern for Abuser, and Justice System Response. While most of these concepts were relatively stable across race and ethnic lines, the concept of spirituality differed for Black and Latina women. Spiritually appeared more important to them in coping with domestic abuse. This seemed to lead many of them to seek help from members of the clergy or from church groups. In most cases these institutions were not able to provide adequate assistance.

The eleven concepts related to BHS can be clustered in three groups: those that originate as behaviors of the abuser, those that originate from the victim and those that tend to act at mediating or moderating factors. Using the relationship network function in Atlas.ti, the relationships between BHS and these seven concepts have been graphically illustrated. Moreover the relationship between the codes making up the seven related concepts have also been explored and will be graphically presented in the poster.

Findings have implications for social work providers that include the need for outreach and coordination of efforts with law enforcement, the court system, information and referral systems—especially hotlines. Findings suggest a need for mainstream providers to reach out to churches, clergy and other faith based providers, particularly in minority communities. Policy and practice implications of the findings will be discussed.