Abstract: Economic Empowerment and Intimate Partner Violence: Lessons from Survivors and Service Providers (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

746P Economic Empowerment and Intimate Partner Violence: Lessons from Survivors and Service Providers

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Tarshis, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Mariama Diallo, DSW, DSW Student, Rutgers University, NJ
Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV) impacts one in every three women and continues to be a pervasive public health concern (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2019; World Health Organization (WHO), 2017). IPV refers to the physical, sexual, coercive, economic and psychological harm by an intimate partner (Black et al., 2011; Stark, 2007; WHO, 2017). Economic abuse has only recently been conceptualized as a distinct form of violence and includes multiple tactics to control, sabotage, and exploit a survivor’s ability to acquire financial assets and maintain employment (Postmus et al., 2020; Sanders, 2015). This form of abuse has negative impacts on financial security, education and employment prospects. Economic empowerment services were established to address the effects of economic abuse and enhance knowledge and confidence related to finances and employment, yet little is known about this area of IPV scholarship. This study addresses this gap by comparing perspectives on economic empowerment among IPV survivors and IPV service providers.

Methods: A constructivist grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2014) was utilized to develop a theoretical framework for conceptualizing how economic empowerment is understood by employment-seeking survivors of IPV, and IPV service providers. Twenty-six participants were recruited (survivors, n=16; service providers, n=10) in a large northeastern U.S. city using theoretical sampling to ensure the sample included survivors with diverse identities and experiences, and service providers with a range of professional expertise. Individual interviews were conducted with all participants. Research questions focused on how IPV survivors and service providers conceptualize and view empowerment; what IPV survivors and service providers identify as experiences of empowerment; and how services respond to and support survivors’ economic empowerment and employment needs.

Findings: Three main themes emerged from the study: (1) Structural characteristics that shape individual experiences and perspectives of empowerment; (2) Peer support as an integral component to empowerment; and 3) Employment attainment as economic empowerment. Views frequently aligned between the two groups, although some key differences emerged. Some service providers and survivors supported a structuralist point of view consistent with a multidimensional understanding of empowerment, while others considered economic empowerment as an attribute of the individual. This tension provided insights into what constitutes empowerment, who is responsible for empowering survivors, and how economic empowerment programs should be conceptualized for employment-seekers.

Conclusions: This study builds on previous IPV research by exploring and comparing the perspectives of IPV survivors and service providers on empowerment in the context of employment-seeking. Contextualized discussions with survivors and service providers highlight both the benefits and limitations of empowerment practices. Collected narratives suggest the need to expand individual economic empowerment practices to incorporate the intersectional and structural considerations of employment-seeking. Recommendations for theory and multilevel economic empowerment services are provided.