Abstract: Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors By Providing Access to Technology (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors By Providing Access to Technology

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jonel Thaller, PhD, Associate Professor, Ball State University, Muncie, IN
Megan Lindsay Brown, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Jill Messing, MSW, PhD, Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Camryn Lizik, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Asu, Phoenix
Background: Technology is inextricable from domestic violence (DV), tied to monitoring, constant contact, and other forms of coercion. Abusive behaviors include phone tampering, limiting device access, and monitoring phone records. However, informational websites, crisis hotlines, and health and safety applications aid victims in learning more about abuse and connecting to DV services. Online resources are attractive to survivors because they provide anonymity, access to high quality information about recognizing abuse, and a means for connecting with services in their local area. However, research findings about the impact technology has on survivors’ help-seeking processes are mixed. Some studies have found an improved response to computer aids and audio computer assisted self-interviews when disclosing sensitive information; other research contradicts these findings (Bernabe-Ortiz et al., 2008; Ghanem, Hutton, Zenilman, Zimba, & Erbelding, 2005; Hewett et al., 2008; Rathod, Minnis, Subbiah, & Krishnan, 2011).

Purpose: Given that IPV survivors depend on technology, that technology can be used to facilitate abuse, and the inconclusive research of the impact of technology on help-seeking processes, this study sought to answer the question “What do survivors themselves see as the role of technology in their process of seeking help for domestic violence?”

Methods: Individual, semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 40-90 minutes were conducted with 12 survivors living at a residential domestic violence shelter in a Southwestern state. Researchers worked closely with onsite staff, advocates, and the volunteer coordinator to establish a presence at the shelter. Survivors were guided through several questions related to their experience and use of technology as it related to their online help-seeking. Interviewees were given a consent form and indicated verbal consent by participating in the interview. For their time and participation, they were compensated $20. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded using an open-coding thematic analysis. All program participants received access to a new mobile phone through a partnership with TMobile.

Findings: Though most participants were able to cite instances of technology being used against them in a negative way (stalking, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence), many participants also provided examples of how they positively utilized technology for their own well being. Positive benefits included building online support networks, utilizing digital traces to ground in reality, and technology-based resistance. Survivors indicated that their use of technology to incorporate self-employed safety strategies provided them with personal fulfillment. Multiple participants pointed to the significance of online social interaction with external family, friends, and service providers, with some even noting these contacts catalyzed their ultimate decision to leave their abuser.