Abstract: Battered Mothers Fleeing Across International Borders: Examining Hague Convention Cases involving Domestic Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12421 Battered Mothers Fleeing Across International Borders: Examining Hague Convention Cases involving Domestic Violence

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 4:00 PM
Pacific Concourse M (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Taryn Lindhorst, PhD , University of Washington, Associate Professor, Seattle, WA
Jeffrey L. Edleson, PhD , University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Professor, St. Paul, MN
Gita Mehrotra, MSW , University of Washington, Doctoral Student, Seattle, WA
Luz Marilis López, PhD , Boston University, Assistant Professor, Boston, MA
Background/Purpose: Nearly 1000 cases of international child abduction were reported to the United States State Department in the most recent year for which data are available. Over half of these cases involve mothers who may face legal action under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Anecdotally, domestic violence has been noted as a factor in many of these cases, yet little is known about these situations. In particular, no analyses have been conducted of factors that may be involved in a woman's choice to come to the US with her children and the outcomes of this decision. In today's context of increasing globalization, understanding these experiences reveals important dimensions of transnational processes affecting the safety needs of battered women and their children.

Method: Qualitative narrative research methods were used to explore the situations of battered women who were respondents to a Hague petition in U.S. courts. Extensive interviews were completed with 21 battered mothers (16 U.S. citizens, 5 immigrant women) and 23 attorneys; further information was gathered from expert witnesses and judicial opinions in the cases. Interviews focused on women's experience in the relationship, resources available in both countries, and the processes related to the legal cases. The narrative data were coded using a consensual team process and themes were identified through within case and cross-case analyses.

Results: Three primary themes emerged from the data. In “Recognizing Behaviors as Abuse,” all three respondent groups (mothers, attorneys and judges) demonstrate dilemmas related to defining what constitutes domestic violence, particularly in varied cultural contexts. Mothers described a pattern of abuse that peaked in a severe episode of violence and/or a critical incident precipitating their entry into the U.S. with their children. Legal professionals, however, were ambivalent about when domestic violence was a primary factor to be considered. . In the second theme, “Going Home to Family”, respondents noted that what would normally be family law situations became intertwined in issues of international relations. Because of little protective support from social services or law enforcement in the other country, most mothers relied almost exclusively on family support in the U.S. and did not access domestic violence advocacy services in either country. In the third theme, “Altered Citizenship,” respondents noted issues in negotiating citizenship and language barriers in multiple contexts, raising key questions about the salience of citizenship status in transnational domestic violence cases. Despite the seriousness of the abuse, judges ordered the return of the children to the abuser in half of the cases

Implications: The numbers of bi-national marriages are increasing as are the signatories to the Hague Convention. Social workers are likely to work with increasing numbers of multinational families in which violence may be occurring. These findings suggest the importance of developing interventions focused on safety strategies for battered mothers facing international custody cases. Findings also point to the need for increased collaboration between legal professionals, domestic violence advocates, and social workers in recognizing and responding to domestic violence in international child custody cases.