Abstract: Women's Experiences of Intimate Partner Abuse While Incarcerated: The Measurement Structure, Reliability, and Validity of a Novel Measure (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Women's Experiences of Intimate Partner Abuse While Incarcerated: The Measurement Structure, Reliability, and Validity of a Novel Measure

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Garthe, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Gina Fedock, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: A staggering number of women involved in the criminal justice system have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. While women are incarcerated, their abusive partners residing in the community can perpetrate intimate partner abuse through tactics such as harassment and threats. Women often rely on these partners for financial support, access to children, and post-release housing. Abusive partners may use this reliance to exert control over women. This form of abuse for incarcerated women is highly understudied and lacking a validated measure to capture these abuse dynamics. The current study assessed the measurement structure, reliability, and validity of a novel instrument designed to capture abuse that women experience while incarcerated.

Methods. Data were from a survey conducted in a multi-level security state women’s prison. Participants included 790 women (49.2% White/Caucasian, 35% Black/African American) between the ages of 18 and 65. The survey included multiple measures of victimization, including seven questions (responding yes or no) about abuse experienced during incarceration by an outside partner (e.g., denying or threatening to deny visits with children, friends, or family; denying or threatening to deny financial support; verbal abuse; threats of or actual physical abuse). Data analyses included an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to establish the factor structure. Items were assessed for inter-item reliability (the Kuder-Richardson-20; KR-20) and construct validity. Analyses were conducted using Mplus (8.1) software, with the Mean- and Variance-adjusted Weighted Least Squares (WLSMV) estimator.

Results. Almost half (48.6%) of the women experienced at least one form of abuse while incarcerated by an outside partner. The EFA indicated a two-factor structure had better model fit than one-factor (RMSEA = 0.065; CFI = 0.041). The CFA of the two-factor structure demonstrated good fit (RMSEA = 0.075, CFI = 0.98), including a Deny/Threaten to Deny factor (3 items; loadings = .85-.91) and an Abuse/Control factor (4 items; loadings = .70-.95). The KR-20 showed adequate reliability for the Deny/Threaten to Deny (𝛼 = .75) and Abuse/Control factors (𝛼 = .70). These factors were examined in relation to lifetime IPV, other forms of victimization, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) using structural equation modeling. Lifetime IPV (β = .17, β = .13), victimization (β = .19, β = .09) and ACEs (β = .24, β = .25) were associated with the Deny/Threaten to Deny and Abuse/Control factors, respectively, demonstrating construct validity.

Conclusions and Implications. Women experience intimate partner abuse while incarcerated by partners in the community. This current study’s results indicate that women experience two types of abuse; their partner may deny or threaten to deny financial support and/or visits, and women may be threatened or abused, experience unwanted contact, or feel unsafe. These results inform practice and future research with this population. It is critical to screen for this type of abuse, as a concerning number of women experience abuse while incarcerated, and given this novel instrument’s structure, reliability, and validity, it may assist with capturing these dynamics and enhancing policies and practices for incarcerated women.