The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Promotion of Economic Justice for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Case Study

Friday, January 17, 2014: 4:00 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Bonham, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Deborah Svoboda, PhD, Assistant Professor, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA
Background: Since the opening of shelters in the mid-1970s, survivors of intimate partner violence have reported a spectrum of abuses from physical, sexual, psychological, and economic, to name a few.  Economic coercive and controlling tactics of abusive partners have included limiting access to funds, controlling use of and decisions related to resources in the relationship, stealing their partner’s resources, economic exploitation, and sabotaging their partner’s capacity to change their economic situation through employment and education.  Understanding how a domestic violence organization promotes justice for survivors can inform future planning and strategic resource utilization to relieve the consequences of economic abuse in intimate partner violence.

Purpose:Given the critical location of domestic violence organizations in responding to the immediate needs of survivors, informing policy, and advocating for social change, this study examines the perceived role and current efforts of one domestic violence organization’s promotion of economic justice.    

Methods:Using intersectional feminist theory and theories of justice, an intrinsic case study with embedded units was conducted of a confidential East Coast domestic violence organization, referred to as the Center.  Qualitative methods were used to collect evidence for the case study from four sources: participant-observation over three months, in-depth interviews with 23 organization members, focus groups with 18 clients of the organization, and review of archival records.  

Results: Direct interpretation of the evidence from all sources revealed varying degrees to which the Center responds to economic abuse.  The Center’s responses were interpreted to support the economic security and well-being for survivors.  A model of economic justice for survivors was used in interviews and focus groups to identify areas for reform.  Opportunities for social reform were recommended to improve the response by systems to survivors, to decrease the impact of economic abuse, and to garner resources in the community for survivors. 

Conclusions:The mission of the organization was found to be a barometer for defining the role the organization took to address economic abuse with survivors. A clear debate emerged across sources of evidence around the intention of the mission and the identified barriers to fulfilling the mission.  The intention of the organization’s mission was clearly named as the safety (primarily physical) and stability of survivors.  The tempered portion of the organization’s mission and values is the extent to which the organization, programs, and individuals actively work to support the economic well-being of their clients; “how far down that road do you go” as one organization member stated. 

Implications for social work practice include development of economic advocacy working towards economic justice.  Social work research gains a description of how one domestic violence organization defines its role and chooses to actively support economic stability and well-being for survivors. Future research is needed to examine a model of progression of survivors’ economic experiences and organizational response that was developed from the findings of the case study.