Abstract: Building a Framework to Understand the Effects of Relational Health on Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Building a Framework to Understand the Effects of Relational Health on Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Laura A. Voith, PhD, Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Hyunjune Lee, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Katie Russell, MSSA, Doctoral student, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Amy Korsch-Williams, MSSA, Senior Instructor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: Research has linked childhood trauma to men’s perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV) in adulthood. Despite the profound effects of childhood trauma, few studies have examined factors that may mitigate this process in adults. Relational health has emerged as a consistent factor that can mitigate the effects of trauma among children; however, less is known about relational health within adults, particularly as it relates to IPV perpetration among racially and socioeconomically marginalized men.

Methods: Due to limited guiding frameworks on relational health and IPV perpetration among men with histories of trauma, an exploratory mixed methods design was used. The Exploratory Sequential Design, Taxonomy Development Model prioritizes the application of qualitative data collection and analysis to identify quantitative variables and hypotheses to test. Semi-structured interviews (N = 11) and narrative analysis were conducted in Phase I with low-income men of color in a batterer intervention program (BIP). In Phase II, variables approximating the key themes that emerged in Phase I were selected from an existing dataset, and relationships articulated by the lived experience of Phase I participants were examined using bivariate associations. Phase II data were obtained through surveys completed by a sample of men in the same BIP, including all Phase I participants. Survey respondents (N = 67) were on average 35 years old, Black (76.1%), high school graduates (49.3%), employed (86.6%), and earning less than $20,000 annually (71.6%). The measures selected for Phase II were: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Checklist, Structured Interview for Disorders of Extreme Stress, Health Status Survey Short Form Version 2, Lubben Social Network Scale, and the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale.

Results: The collective narrative of Phase I participants indicated that adverse life experiences shaped their world view via four mechanisms: mistrust in others, avoidance of expressing vulnerability, a sense of personal guilt and shame, and negative effects on mental health. These underlying mechanisms were then carried forward into adult relationships where men coped using social isolation to manage challenges, which negatively affected relationships with intimate partners. Significant bivariate associations supported this narrative. Certain ACEs (i.e., not feeling loved; physical abuse) were associated with smaller social networks in adulthood (r(59) = -.343, p = .008, r(60) = -.277, p = .032, respectively). Larger social networks were inversely associated with guilt/shame (r(57) = -.453, p < .001), mistrust of others (r(57) = -.352, p = .007), and positively associated with better overall mental health (r(57) =.284 p = .032). These indicators of poorer mental health and wellbeing in the past month were significantly associated with greater IPV frequency in the past year.

Conclusions and Implications: The application of this mixed methods design lays the foundation for future research to examine the potential moderating effects of social networks and other forms of relational health on the relation between ACEs and IPV perpetration among marginalized men. Though further research must be conducted, BIPs should consider augmenting programming to enhance men’s social networks with positive actors to support their use of non-violence post-program completion.