Proposed Case Study--Domestic Violence
Structural Violence of Economy Affecting Women Victims
of Domestic Violence
This proposed case study would look at the question, “In what ways does domestic violence have an impact on women who access the system for help, and how does this affect their earning ability?” Looking at how well a community can meet the needs of a mother who decides to escape intimate violence indicates how easily women can recover and rebuild their lives without the economic support of a partner. When a community cannot provide needed assistance to women victims and their children, women cannot become self-supporting and so face other means of survival, such as ADFC, another abusive relationship or live in crisis mode because they can’t make ends meet.
During marriage and intimate relationships where a woman has been the victim of domestic violence, many women do not have the financial resources to leave because they rely on their partner to provide for themselves and their children. Many women in abusive relationships cannot provide shelter for themselves and any children they may have, and have many traumas to overcome before they are ready to earn a livable income.
Even after leaving abusive relationships, women as well as their children are left scarred with little resources to build a life for themselves and many receive AFDC to ensure that there will be food during the month for their children. It is well known that AFDC offers a barely minimal quality of life.
Social policies to address issues of domestic violence, women and poverty are usually written by people with more traditional views of women so that social norms and attitudes about violence against women do not empower women to earn a higher standard of living. Programs already in place may fall short of providing the multi-faceted needs that women may need to start a productive life for themselves. A woman faced with a domestic violence situation must overcome many burdens. She must figure out how to navigate the court system, worry about her safety and the safety of her child(ren), think about unemployment, welfare, work environment, mediation, transportation, therapy and other situations that do not support women’s need to be self-sustaining economically alone and in a short enough period of time to rebound from the effects of domestic violence.
The political economy of divorce, as discussed in the abstract of Demie Kurz’s book; For Richer, For Poorer: Mothers Confront Divorce (1999) looks at 129 mothers who obtained divorces, many who had been victims of domestic violence. Kurz discusses the impact of violence on women and children’s quality of life after the divorce which continues the power imbalance of their marriages. Women settle for less financially in their divorce settlements so that they can keep custody of their children. Thirty-nine percent of divorced women and their children live in poverty in the United States. The economic impact of divorce as well as the “femininization of poverty” is discussed, leading to Kurz’s recognition of “...a social system that promotes economic inequality between men and women” (Kurz, 1999, p. 5).
The cost of abuse related absenteeism of women on the job, work time losses due to stress-related illnesses, emergency room visits and hospitalizations as well as time off work by mothers attending to children suffering from the traumatic experiences of witnessing domestic violence, costs our country’s economy countless billions of dollars .
The effects of male violence on women’s participation in the labor force lead to unemployment and health problems in women, as well as higher rates of women’s receiving welfare. Susan Lloyd and Nina Taluc’s article, “The effects of male violence on female employment”(1997) found that domestic violence did impact women’s earning power. Lloyd and Taluc point out that abused women experience more unemployment, more job turnover, more physical and mental health problems, had lower personal incomes, and received public assistance more often than women who had not experienced domestic violence in their adulthood. Their study found that of women in their sample of 824 low-income women, “Women ...receiving AFDC also reported significantly higher levels of violence and coercion in their intimate relationships than women who did not receive public assistance” (Lloyd & Tulac, 1999, p. 10). More than twice the number (19.5%) of AFDC recipients experienced severe aggression in the past twelve months than those women who had not (8.1%).
The recent regulations mandating AFDC recipients to return to work within a few years make earning a livable income for single mothers especially difficult. Women participating in reaching higher educational goals as well as progressive job skills and education about money matters would give battered women trying to support themselves and their children a better chance of achieving a higher quality of life.
The National Coalition for the Homeless published a fact sheet that discusses women leaving abusive relationships being forced to choose living on the streets or staying in abusive relationships (NCH Fact Sheet #8, April 1999). Because shelters are often full and because of long waiting lists for assisted housing and the lack of affordable housing, 50% of homeless women and children were found to be fleeing abuse in a Ford Foundation study in 1990. This NCH fact sheet also reports that in 1998, an estimated 32% of requests for shelter by homeless families were denied due to lack of resources (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998).
METHOD OF STUDY
The primary method of study would be a narrative by a mother who has left a marriage involving domestic violence with her child and what obstacles and challenges she faced while navigating the system. A woman such as this would be found at a local women’s shelter. This case study would follow her progress as she finds resources she needs to help her become self-supporting and able to move out of the shelter with her child and onto her own. She would begin by describing her first decision to leave her relationship and what action she took, including talking to trusted people in her life to convince her of leaving. She would conceivably be in contact with the police, emergency shelter, department of social services, possibly unemployment, the court system, family mediation, employers, and trying to obtain shelter for her and her child. The woman’s mental state would be recorded to consider how her emotions contribute to her ability to find a job, find day-care, secure housing and take care of her child. The emotional abuse suffered would contribute to her self-esteem and ability to successfully interview for a job.
Questions posed to the woman would illicit indicators of how easily she would be able to secure adequate income and housing to support herself and her child. Questions would be: How much education does she have? What job skills? Did she get any job training? If so, how did she find a job training program and how helpful was it? Was she able to find employment? How long did it take her to find a job? Was her income enough to support her and her child? Did she have to find other work to supplement her income? Did she barter to make ends meet? Did she utilize public support and/or unemployment; and if so for how long? How much money did public support and/or unemployment provide her?
Did she utilize an emergency shelter? If so, for how long? What was her experience at the shelter and how helpful was it? Where did she find the shelter?
Did she get therapy for herself and her child? If so, how long did therapy last and how much did it cost her? How did she find a therapist? What emotional support system does she have? Does she have friends and family she can rely on to support her?
Did she secure housing? Was she able to find day care and a school for her child? Were medical needs taken care of for her and her child? How were they paid for? Did she have health insurance?
What kind of transportation does she have? What form of transportation will she need and will it be available to her?
In the court system, did she have an attorney, or did she act on her own behalf? How much did legal fees cost her? Did she go through the court system? Did she file for divorce? Did she obtain a restraining order? Did she attend family mediation? Did she obtain custody of her child? Did she receive child support? If so, how much money was ordered for her to receive? Did she receive spousal support? Has she faced harassment or threats by her spouse? What other legal action did she take?
Content analysis would look at the services that are available to a mother escaping a domestic violence situation and how well they serve the needs of victims and their children. As she accessed the system and community services, considering what her challenges were and what blocked her progress to make a life for herself would be analyzed.
This study would examine what obstacles she faced in the system while trying to rebuild her life. Some concerns might be that she would have to make too many appointments that she becomes bogged down just in keeping appointments, and also that the system does not understand all the challenges that a victim faces and is not coordinated enough with other services to really help victims. A victim that has already been stretched to far emotionally and having to care for a child faces a huge challenge in the court system, for example. She probably does not understand the court system that is already intimidating to most, and she must make herself familiar with the court system somehow. If she cannot afford a lawyer, she is on her own and has to located resources that will help her understand the court system.
Since fear will be a large issue with her, she may settle for less monetary award that she may receive through the court just so that she can take her child and not have to face her abuser. Being in a vulnerable emotional state, she would probably want to find a safe place and not have the emotional strength to really fight her abuser in court. Other issues might be learning where there is a law library; knowing that there is a court facilitator to direct her to the right forms to use; understanding family mediation; knowing that she can file a fee waver if she has to; these are all great issues that she would probably have to learn about. If her abuser has made more money than her during the marriage, he may be in a much better position to acquire legal help through an attorney because of his higher income.
Transportation would probably be by bus, and with a child this would be time-consuming and difficult while she has to make her appointments with different resources. Locating affordable child-care would be another problem, since child care is expensive if she had no friends or family able to baby-sit. Supporting herself and her child while involved in building job skills or attending school would be difficult, since affordable housing is not always available and expenses would be hard to meet without a decent income from a full-time job. Public assistance has a time-limit on how long they are available. Time limits are also common at shelters, often requiring women to find jobs within a month’s time. This does not provide adequate time to learn new job skills to give her training that would give her a much needed increase in her income.
All these responsibilities would add to a woman’s stressload making it difficult to recover from her abuse and become a functioning and self-supporting person who can create a decent life for herself and her baby. Studying the difficulties and challenges a mother faces in escaping a violent marriage would help policymakers and communities better fill the needs of a woman going through such an ordeal.