Abstract: Where Is the Women's Center Here?: Information and Communication Gaps Affecting Refugee Women's Access to Services and Support for Domestic Violence in Resettlement (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Where Is the Women's Center Here?: Information and Communication Gaps Affecting Refugee Women's Access to Services and Support for Domestic Violence in Resettlement

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Karin Wachter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Laurie Cook Heffron, PhD, Assistant Professor, St. EdwardÂ’s University, Austin, TX
Jessica Dalpe, MSW, Technical Advisor, International Rescue Commitee
Background and Purpose

How individuals seek information is context specific and influenced by cultural norms and accessibility of information sources (Harris et al., 2012). Research has not systematically addressed needs associated with information and communication among women who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in refugee resettlement contexts. This area of inquiry has particular implications for women who resettle to the U.S. as refugees and face a host of barriers to accessing help from informal and formal networks. This qualitative study sought to identify factors that influence how refugee women seek and access services and support for IPV. Through an iterative interpretive process, the current analysis examined information gaps and communication challenges associated with seeking help for IPV among women who resettled to the U.S. as refugees.



The study took place in an urban metropolitan area in the southern region of the U.S. over the course of two years (2016-2018). A resettlement agency facilitated the recruitment of research participants (n = 88) from both refugee clients, service providers, and other stakeholders in the area. Female adult refugee clients (n = 35) originated from Central and East Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Service providers and stakeholders (n = 53) worked in refugee resettlement, domestic violence, social services, and/or community-based organizations. The research team conducted 15 individual interviews and 24 focus group discussions. Researchers employed an inductive thematic analytical approach, which generated findings on information and communication challenges affecting women’s access to services and support for IPV post-resettlement.



Three themes converged through the analytical process: (1) “Where’s the women center here?” (2) “When we don’t talk” (3) “All I can do is ask if you're safe and hope you understand.” Women who resettled to the U.S. as refugees indicated having assumptions around the availability of domestic violence services in the U.S., but that they did not have information regarding options or pathways for women experiencing abuse. Participants indicated feeling ill equipped to help themselves and other women experiencing IPV in the U.S. Notably, women pointed to the need for professional domestic violence services. The silence surrounding women’s experiences also emerged as a significant factor shaping women’s access to support and services. For some, the silence reflected entrenched social and familial norms that equated being a woman with suffering. For others, staying silent was a strategy for keeping themselves safe and financially stable as they navigated daily life with abusive partners. Finally, providers highlighted the importance of ensuring linguistic communication as a starting point, and the significant complexity of building trust and facilitating meaningful exchanges between women and providers. 


Conclusions and Implications

The analysis highlights considerable challenges related to information gaps and communication struggles complicating the help seeking process for IPV in resettlement. These findings contribute nuance to help- and information-seeking models that do not adequately account for challenges refugee and immigrant women face. The findings point to implications for resettlement policy and practice, including the critical need for facilitating information-sharing and meaningful communication within and across informal and formal networks.