Abstract: Moving Beyond Performative Allyship: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Organizations Approaches for Nurturing Inclusivity (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Moving Beyond Performative Allyship: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Organizations Approaches for Nurturing Inclusivity

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Storer, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Eva Nyerges, MSW, Student, University of Louisville, KY
Background & Purpose: Due to structural and systemic inequities, adolescents from underrepresented backgrounds experience disproportionately high rates of dating abuse. Furthermore, teens that identify as LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC are reluctant to seek services from domestic violence and sexual assault (DV/SA) providers due to prior experiences of stigma and discrimination. Although inclusive organizational practices at domestic violence and sexual assault (DV/SA) organizations are critical for promoting resilience, evidence suggests that DV/SA organizations are not equipped to meet the diversity of their clients’ needs. The purpose of this study is to explore DV/SA organizations’ implicit and explicit organizational practices for promoting inclusivity, belonging, and service utilization among youth who are socially underrepresented.

Methods & Sample: This study utilized a sequential mixed-methods design involving key informant interviews with national DV/SA organizations (n=35) and a digital ethnography of DV/SA organizations (n=85) digital footprints (e.g., websites, hyperlinks). A semi-structured interview guide was utilized to elicit participants’ perspectives regarding their organizations’ practices. Thematic content analysis methods were used to construct the primary thematic domains. The digital ethnography involved both AI-assisted website crawling and manual data extraction of context-specific concepts. All written content, hyperlinks, and website images were systematically analyzed using descriptive statistics and content analysis methods.

Results: The majority of organizations described implementing diversity trainings, tailoring organizational programming, and providing referrals to external organizations. A small number of organizations described having no formalized practices. Tailored services for BIPOC youth involved culturally specific groups and encouraging increased language access. Inclusive practices to serve LGBTQIA youth involved promoting gender-neutral language and external signs of LGBTQIA+ support. Factors contributing to developing inclusive organizational cultures included: equitable hiring practices, centering anti-racism, and nurturing community and leadership buy-in. Barriers to creating inclusive organizational environments included: conservative political settings, identity-neutral organizational policies, and the presence of predominantly white staff.

The digital ethnography found that few organizations displayed anti-racist language; 1/3 displayed a symbol of LGBTQIA+ inclusivity; 21% offered culturally specific programming; 48% provided bilingual services. No organizations showed images of explicitly same-sex couples. The majority of organizations had a general inclusion statement related to “serving everyone.” An analysis of the linked hyperlinks reveals that most programs are mainly collaborating with other DV service providers and criminal justice entities.

Discussion & Implications for Practice: Historically, DV/SA organizations have been critiqued for privileging the needs of predominantly white, heterosexual, and female-identified adult survivors. There has been limited examination regarding how organizations nurture more inclusive organizational spaces for youth from underrepresented groups. Understanding both implicit and explicit organizational practices is essential for understanding why youth are reluctant to access services. Across this sample, DV/SA organizations acknowledged the importance of creating inclusive organizational cultures for diverse youth, but they faced challenges institutionalizing these approaches. Signs & symbols of allyship were present across their websites; however, these efforts, though an important initial step, are not enough to dismantle pervasive white supremacy and heteronormativity present at these organizations.