Economic Abuse in the Lives of Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Investigation With Implications for Social Work Research and Practice
Methods: This study employed a qualitative phenomenological approach, aiming to explore the lived experience of survivors and practitioners (Padgett, 2008). Data were obtained through a combination of semi-structured practitioner interviews with social workers in IPV service agencies (n=7), analysis of IPV survivor narratives (n=36), and review of IPV agency materials and curriculum. Transcripts, narratives, and documents were coded line-by-line for concepts and themes using NVivo 10.
Results: Seven broad themes were identified within which twenty-six subthemes emerged. There was congruence between survivor and provider perspectives regarding the central role of employment and schooling sabotage and the destruction of economic resources. Survivors emphasized the impact of economic threats- using threatened economic hardship as a tool for maintaining physical control- as a critical aspect of their IPV experience, while social workers did not emphasize this aspect of EA. Social workers focused on the long term economic and social impacts of EA, both tangible and intangible, while survivors emphasized the short-term barriers to safety caused by economic exploitation. Both survivor narratives and social worker interviews were clear on the strengths exhibited in responding to experiences of EA, as resilience, resourcefulness, and ‘working the system’ emerged as themes from both groups.
Conclusions and Implications: The emphasis that survivors place on the use of economic threats as a tool for coercive control should inform both the development of EA measures and interventions aimed at women experiencing abuse. Evidence is strong for the need for social work interventions to support women dealing with disrupted employment, destroyed credit histories, and ‘lost economic years,’ but few such interventions exist. Researcher-practitioner-survivor partnerships would support efforts in this area. Future work should identify strategies to build on the resilience and resourcefulness of IPV survivors, and to investigate the link between EA and future economic and social outcomes. The narratives of women can be an important jumping off point for identifying and justifying the need for effective interventions.