The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Economic Abuse in the Lives of Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Investigation With Implications for Social Work Research and Practice

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 5:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel J. Voth Schrag, MSW, LCSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Recent CDC data suggests that 1 in 3 women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, and nearly half have experienced psychological aggression. While Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has been brought into the public consciousness in the previous 45 years, Economic Abuse (EA), a component of IPV, has remained understudied.  EA includes actions taken by an intimate partner to establish coercive control through financial or economic exploitation or sabotage.  Recent studies have identified EA as a pervasive phenomenon within IPV, with 98% of women in one sheltered population identifying coercive economic control in their relationship.  To understand the perspectives of survivors and providers on the phenomenon of EA, the research questions that framed this study were: (1) What aspects of EA are considered the most important by IPV survivors and Social Workers?  (2) How do survivors and practitioners view the long-term economic impact of EA? (3) What strategies do survivors of IPV use to address EA? (4) What do Social Workers see as the strengths of IPV survivors in the face of EA?

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.