Abstract: We Weren't Ready: Provider Perspectives on Addressing Intimate Partner Violence Among Refugees and Immigrants in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

We Weren't Ready: Provider Perspectives on Addressing Intimate Partner Violence Among Refugees and Immigrants in the United States

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Karin Wachter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Laurie Cook Heffron, PhD, Assistant Professor, St. Edward’s University, Austin
Jessica Dalpe, MSW, Technical Advisor, International Rescue Commitee
Background and Purpose

Complex factors shape service provision for refugee and immigrant women who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). While social services in the United States (U.S.) address IPV on the one hand and assist resettling refugees on the other, organizations do not readily lend themselves to working at the intersections of IPV and immigration. Gaps in knowledge, policy, and practice regarding IPV services and support for refugee and immigrant women in the U.S. persist. In response, this qualitative study examined organizational factors that influence the availability and accessibility of IPV services for refugee and other vulnerable immigrant women in the U.S.


The study took place in an urban metropolitan area in the southern region of the U.S. A local agency facilitated the recruitment of research participants based on a purposive sampling approach. Although the study recruited a broader sample of participants, the current analysis focused solely on a subsample of stakeholders and providers (n=53) working with refugees and immigrants in various capacities across multiple service sectors, including IPV, refugee resettlement, and legal advocacy. Researchers conducted 5 interviews and 16 focus groups with participants representing 16 discrete agencies in the study vicinity. To generate findings, researchers employed a rigorous thematic analytical approach.


The analysis generated four inter-related themes representing complex organizational and structural forces at play: (1) We weren’t ready, (2) No place to go, (3) Time is not on our side, and (4) Can’t do it alone. The findings highlight factors across service sectors that shape the availability and accessibility of IPV services for refugee and immigrant women, including challenges associated with the readiness and adaptability of organizations to address dynamic IPV-related needs. The themes raise problems of funding, structure of programs and logistics, and the extent to which IPV agencies are insufficiently equipped to offer IPV services responsive to needs of racially/ethnically, linguistically, religiously, and culturally diverse groups. Moreover, the analysis illuminates the extent to which IPV service demands outweigh organizational capacities and the rigidity of service timelines that failed to meet needs for stable housing, employment, safety, and healing. A pervasive and troubling thread of ethical dilemmas emerged across the four themes, affecting the availability and viability of IPV services for marginalized groups.

Conclusion and Implications

The findings form a compelling argument for structural shifts in IPV policy and funding, enhancing inter-sectoral collaborations, and forging strong connections with formal and informal systems to combat barriers to services. Building and sustaining effective inter-agency and cross-sectoral work necessitate resources to enable collaborative partnerships to flourish. It is important to note the salience of bridging collaborative inter-agency efforts with community-based structures and informal systems of support to form robust coalitions. Finally, cross-movement coalition building is critical to (re)connect social service sectors with seminal and emerging political movements to affect necessary and meaningful structural change.