Intimate partner violence (IPV) is prevalent among college students and may result in long-term, negative health consequences. Colleges have enacted policies both to better address IPV among students and to improve their response to IPV (e.g., strengthening Title IX offices and improving coordination among IPV service providers). These campus service providers strive to address survivors’ needs, but there is a lack of research on service providers’ experiences working with IPV survivors who may be reluctant to seek help, have multiple needs with different cumulative victimization histories, and/or come from diverse sociocultural backgrounds. This paper fills this gap by conducting in-depth interviews with college service providers to inform policy and practice.
Twenty-two semi-structured interviews were conducted with college service providers (i.e., physicians, nurses, counselors, sexual assault response team, police) at a Midwestern public university. Providers were predominately female (90%) and White/Caucasian (82%). Main questions included: (1) Why might IPV survivors be reluctant to seek help?; (2) Have you worked with IPV survivors who have experienced multiple forms of violence or have multiple needs?; (3) Describe a time you worked with a client with a different background than you. Utilizing thematic analysis, interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded through constant comparisons, and grouped based on their meaningful interconnectedness.
Providers identified that survivors’ reluctance to seek help centered around themes of academic concerns; fear of parents finding out; cultural differences; stigma, shame and self-blame. When asked about survivors’ cumulative violence histories, some providers discussed the negative impact of prior trauma on their clients’ mental health and coping skills, but fewer described what they had specifically done to help such clients. Further, providers identified that their clients had multiple needs, including academic physical and mental health, and/or employment concerns, but fewer described what they did to help clients address these concerns. Additionally, providers who worked with diverse clients emphasized the importance of respecting clients’ self-determination; acknowledging one’s own biases; and developing cultural competency, while others shared that most of their clients were of a similar background to them.
Conclusion & Implications:
Providers identified many reasons why IPV survivors may not seek help. One reason includes fear of confidentiality being broken, which indicates that service utilization may be improved by emphasizing service confidentiality in outreach materials. Further, while providers acknowledged that many of their clients had multiple needs and cumulative violence histories, results showed that they were less prepared to work with such clients and sometimes had to refer them elsewhere. Increased communication between service providers across the university may improve this issue. Additionally, some providers were well-versed in the importance of cultural competency, while others had less experience working with diverse clients. Therefore, IPV providers may benefit from trainings on cultural competency, specifically focusing on cultural differences in defining IPV. Campus service providers are a protective agent when student survivors seek help; therefore, it is critical that providers are confident working with a diverse population of survivors with different histories, needs and concerns.