Abstract: "Do I Belong Here?": Experiences of Transgender Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Shelter (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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391P "Do I Belong Here?": Experiences of Transgender Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Shelter

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Leat, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
Kristen Ravi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Background/Purpose: Individuals who identify as transgender experience intimate partner violence (IPV) 1.7 times more than their cisgender counterparts. Additionally, transgender identifying individuals face significant barriers in seeking help for their experiences of IPV. Often resources are scarce, or agencies are ill-equipped to provide supportive services for transgender survivors. More research is needed to understand the plight of transgender survivors who seek help. This study presents a case study of three trans female identifying survivors’ experiences in an IPV shelter exclusively for female identifying survivors.

Methods: Three transgender identifying participants were recruited from two IPV shelters in a southern state. Participants were part of a larger study using a sequential mixed-methods design in which participants completed a quantitative survey and a follow-up qualitative interview. The purpose of the original study was to examine life in shelter to identify policy and procedure changes in the “post-covid” era. Participants completed an online survey containing demographic questions and the Abuse Behavior Inventory (ABI) to capture experiences of IPV. Participants then completed a follow-up semi structured qualitative interview. Interviews were audio recorded and professionally transcribed. Quantitative data from scales was summed to create total scores. Qualitative data was analyzed using a descriptive case study approach (Yin, 2003) to generate propositions related to life in a IPV shelter.

Results: Participants all identified as trans female and had an average age of 37.6. Two participants identified as White and one identified as Black/African American. One participant had two children while the other two did not have any. ABI scores indicate moderate to high levels of violence.

Three main propositions were generated by two researchers who analyzed the data:

Theme 1: “Do I really belong here?”. Participants discussed their decision-making process which led them to enter a shelter that was exclusively for female identifying survivors. Participants felt supported by staff during the intake process but were leery of being around residents who may judge them.

Theme 2: Safe, but unsafe. Participants described how they felt safe from their abusive partners upon entering the shelter but felt unsafe being around staff and residents at the shelter. In one case, a staff member was fired over their treatment of one of the participants.

Theme 3: My eyes were opened. Lastly participants discussed how experiencing abuse opened their eyes to the oppression of women in society. Prior to transitioning, participants described failing to recognize the subjugation of women and how many are abused by their male partners. Participants reported feeling some guilt over not using their former male privilege to help women.

Conclusions and Implications: Results reveal the experiences of transgender female survivors in shelter and highlight the importance of proper education of both shelter staff and residents regarding maternal mental health disorders and their impact on mother-child bonding. Results also reveal the inner struggle of transgender identifying survivors and the necessity of offering advocacy and mental health services that are transgender specific.