Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Sky Is The Limit: Researching New Ideas in Recovery of Intimate Partner Violence

              I’m tired of watching rampant demons destroy my new dreams slowly. can you explain the red-hot blackness of your soul that encompasses my skin, even today, remembering how you held me through the tears, and begrudged the blood like it was all my fault?
‘who knew she bruised so easily?’
I’m tired of listening and pretending like it’s gonna go away. I’m tired of lies and yet the most awful stinging pain in my core tonight is because being alone is somehow more terrifying than the memories of what you’ve done to me. to ruin me. to stand and live and bleed through me as though you had any further right to my soul. Please leave …
(Ramsey, 2011)
This poem was written by a survivor of intimate partner violence as she fights for recovery from abuse, and works through her many issues and mental conditions resulting from the trauma. But this poem was not written in the weeks following her being removed from danger, nor was it written on the one year anniversary of her journey into a new life without her abuser. This poem was written close to 3 years post-trauma. It is my experience that the effects of intimate partner violence are more long-lasting than most of society could ever realize. It is my experience, because this is my poem, and I am suffering emotionally as much today, as I have every day over the last 3 years.
There is an incredible need for social change in the realm of support services offered to victims of intimate partner violence. There are many agencies devoted to removing the victim into a safe environment, many shelters dedicated to helping victims get back on their feet emotionally, physically and socially. However, once that magical first year of recovery from trauma is reached, survivors find themselves on their own in a new world. It is my hypothesis that further study into the needs of these survivors, from the one year anniversary forward, must be done and these findings used to create a long-term recovery program for all victims to reach a level of living happily that we seek, and that we deserve. This idea, though truly selfish as it may be, is beginning to be apparent to researchers as well.
Given the absence of violence exposure post-shelter and the appreciable levels of satisfaction reported for most life domains, the results for depression and trauma symptoms are noteworthy. These “cream of the crop” domestic violence survivors reported symptoms of depression and trauma warranting clinical attention.
…continuing efforts ought to be made to assist women post-shelter in meeting their long-term needs and to examine the provision of specialized treatment, both in shelter and community, regarding depression and PTSD symptoms, such as intrusive memories of abuse experiences.
                                                                                            (Ham-Rowbottom, et al, 2005, p.118,120)
So far, it is evident that almost no help is offered, or readily available, to victims of intimate partner violence after the one year mark, post-trauma. Brilliantly helpful agencies such as The Refuge House in Tallahassee, Florida and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) offer almost no guidance to this long-term idea of care (Refuge House, 2010). While the FCADV champions the Survivor Listening Project, an avenue for survivors to “remain central to, and continue to inform the work of” the coalition (FCADV, 2010), there is no avenue to aid in the continued recovery of these survivors. Compounding the problem are the multiple levels of disadvantage and co-occurring disorders that are frequently ignored by support services for intimate partner violence because these programs lack the integrated services to assist in other related conditions such as mental illness and substance use. This issue will be covered thoroughly in a later section.
So, just why is it that victims of intimate partner violence face such a long road of recovery? The research of DeMaris and Kaukinen (2008) seek to explain this further. A frightening fact produced by their research findings shows that help-seeking behaviors, such as seeking aid from shelters, contacting family and friends, reaching out to therapy, etc. are not necessarily a buffer to decrease psychological trauma. It seems evident that the psychological traumas suffered by the survivors are severe and long lasting (DeMaris & Kaukinen, 2008). Getting to the bottom of this question feels more like peeling an onion than simply finding an answer. With continued research, I am hopelessly hopeful that we can create a plan of action to better aid our abused and broken women.
Clearly, the topic of intimate partner violence is one of specific relation to gender oppression. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse were also female (Durose, 2005). For the purposes of this research paper, only the findings and research as they relate to the gender oppression of women will be discussed. The social relevance of this issue is best described by the work of Dobash & Dobash who state: “it is the battered-women's movement, with the support of the media, who have put the issues of the physical and sexual abuse of women and girls firmly on the social agenda” (1992, p.2)
It is the opinion of Michelle VanNatta that domestic violence shelters, constrained by beaurecratic hierarchies, financial limitations, and the idea of the “normal” battered woman, are failing to provide enough intensive, long-term help to all women, especially those with existing social disadvantages (2005, p.439). We need to look into all aspects of the recovering victim and seek to align a productive recovery model for women victims post-trauma. Poole et al state that 42% of women in domestic violence shelters are substance users, and therefore “the need has been identified for more integrated services for women who use substances and experience violence in their lives” (2008, p.1130).
This layer of disadvantage should not be ignored by support services. The co-morbidity of substance abuse and intimate partner violence is of real concern, though frequently unaddressed by support services. Kail, a social worker looking to address the techniques used in therapies for victims of intimate partner violence and substance abuse, finds that “little attention is given to screening for the presence of IPV” when women are seen for substance abuse issues (Kail, 2010), though the likelihood of related events is common. In fact, Bennett & O’Brien have found that substance abuse “is one of the strongest predictors of intimate partner violence” (2010), and the vast majority of women with substance abuse problems have also been victims of IPV at some point in their lives (Bennett & O’Brien, 2010). So why are support services so clueless? Vast research has been done on the correlation of substance use and violence in intimate relationships, as well as research on the resulting mental health issues of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and intimate partner violence. The big issue, however, is that “few studies have investigated the prevalence of substance-use-related problems among women who experience domestic violence” (Poole, et al, 2008, p.1130). So the question should be how to best treat victims of IPV by also including substance abuse treatment techniques, aid and support. It seems likely that a long-term program of aid will be necessary and helpful to both issues.

A study project organized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sought to find all of these answers and more. The two-phase project enlisted consumer/survivor/recovering women as consultants involved in every phase and level of the study. The importance here is that women who have lived with substance abuse problems, mental illnesses and who have histories of trauma were an integral voice in the 5 year Women, Co-Occurring Disorders and Violence Study (WCDVS). The concept is one of brilliance and hope for survivors. It is the hope that voices just like mine, voices of women who sit in the waiting rooms for health care professionals biting back tears until we reach the safety of the inner office; voices of women who have been desperate, hopeless, and alone in our drinking; voices of women who became so accustomed to the beatings we began to do it to ourselves; voices of women who believe there is no help – will finally be heard.
How else can we as a society begin to be more responsive to the needs of those receiving services than to empower them to be a part of the design and implementation of those services? We need to invite service recipients to sit at the table and speak for themselves instead of allowing anyone else to think that they can speak for them.
(Mockus, et al, 2005, p.525)
The insight gained by SAMHSA is still materializing in the training of professionals in related fields, and through implementation of programs created through the work of this study, although I could find little evidence of an actual plan for either avenue of change.
It is my ultimate goal that the work and research set forth by this paper will become the groundwork for a new recovery support service for survivors of intimate partner violence. I believe the work done here is unique – as unique as each story of horror and survival spoken by the woman who lived through it. Through my research I have learned that we are a vast army, though still disorganized and fearful in our efforts, but we are forming. Mockus, Mars, Ovard, Mazelis, Bjelajac, Grady, LaClair, Livingston, Slavin, Williams and McKinney embody my sentiment perfectly:
Even the best science available has lacked a vital component: the insight and wisdom that can only come through the lived experience of recovery.
(Mockus, et al, 2005, p.515)
It is my hope that a new plan of recovery can be implemented into existing support agencies. Groups like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are making huge waves toward integration of violence safety, substance use recovery and mental health services. I plan to eventually enact this new recovery program within the Tallahassee community, but in the end – the sky may be the limit.

Bennett, L. W. and O'Brien, P. (2010) The Effects of Violence Acuity and Door to Service. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 10(2), 139 — 157. doi: 10.1080/15332561003769526
DeMaris A., Kaukinen C. (2008). Partner's stake in conformity and abused wives' psychological trauma. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23 (10), pp. 1323-1342.
Dobash, R. E., and Dobash, R., Women, Violence, and Social Change (New York: Routledge, 1992).
Durose, M.R., et al., U.S. Department of Justice, NCJ 207846, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Family Violence Statistics: Including Statistics on Strangers and Acquaintances, at 31-32 (2005), available at
Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) (2010). INVEST Program description. Retrieved from
Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) (2010). Survivor Listening Project description. Retrieved from
Ham-Rowbottom, K. A., Gordon, E. E., Jarvis, K. L., & Novaco, R. W. (2005). Life Constraints and Psychological Well-Being of Domestic Violence Shelter Graduates. Journal of Family Violence, 20(2), 109-121. doi:10.1007/s10896-005-3174-7
Kail, B. (2010). Motivating Women with Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Social
             Work Practice in the Addictions, 10(1), 25 — 43. doi: 10.1080/15332560903526002
Mockus, S., Cinq Mars, L., Ovard, D., Mazelis, R., Bjelajac, P., Grady, J., & ... McKinney, J. (2005). Developing consumer/ survivor/recovering voice and its impact on services and research: Our experience with the SAMHSA Women, Co-Occurring Disorders and Violence Study. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(4), 513-525. doi:10.1002/jcop.20066
Poole, N., Greaves, L., Jategaonkar, N., McCullough, L., & Chabot, C. (2008). Substance Use by Women Using Domestic Violence Shelters. Substance Use & Misuse, 43(8/9), 1129-1150. doi:10.1080/10826080801914360
Ramsey, C. (2011). Your Opinion Here: A Collection of Journal and Poetry. Publishers.
Refuge House (2010). General website.
VanNatta, M. (2005). Constructing the Battered Woman. Feminist Studies, 31(2), 416-443.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Leggo the Preggo

As a young woman I worked as the office manager of a family-owned, high-end retail store. I loved my job, though it seemed there was no end to my job description. I was under-paid for my performance, but made more than anyone else my age – so I didn’t have much room to complain. In my years with the company I married, bought my first home, and got a dog. With children and a family looking to be the next logical step in life, I sat in my employer’s office one day and confessed that I was making plans to begin a family. To my surprise, her immediate reaction was one of shock, confusion, and general concern regarding my future with the store. The store owners, an older married couple with no children, could not understand why I would “end” my career to become a mother. Until that moment, I had not considered the decision to begin a family to be synonymous with professional suicide. Coincidentally, I was soon approached by a business competitor and family-man who offered an unbeatable maternity benefits package, so I jumped-ship, and the rest is history.
Soap opera actress Hunter Tylo filed suit in 1997 when she experienced discrimination and contract termination due to her pregnancy. Hired to play a sexy, husband-stealing vixen on the original Melrose Place (Dowd, 1997, p. A13), Tylo was terminated before filming began after she informed show executives of her pregnancy (Jennings, 2008, p. 211). The December 1997 court proceedings heard the Melrose camp claim “material change in appearance” saying Tylo could not perform the role of a seductress while pregnant. Appearing before a jury of 10 women and 2 men, a then-pregnant Tylo walked away the victor (CNN, 1997). Dowd (1997) reported “[the] eight-month-pregnant mother of three looked better in the tight miniskirts she wore to court than most of the women in America” (p. A13). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects pregnant workers as long as they are able to do their job (USDLWB, 1994).
Segura (2009) speaks to this same issue stating “employers may be reluctant to ‘invest’ in or train women workers who, they perceive, may leave a job at any time for familial reasons” (p. 309). The idea that motherhood is an employment hindrance is based in hegemonic ideals and intolerance. My former boss believed child rearing to be important, but time-consuming, unpredictable, and distracting. He assumed that an ideal worker and a mother could not be one in the same. Obviously there are others who share his opinion, but as long as we’ve got whistleblowers in the workplace, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The truth is this: “In 1998, almost three out of four women with children [under six years old] were in the workforce” (DOL, 1999, p. 29-30). With numbers like these, it’s no wonder employers are beginning to get on-board with benefits designed for the working mother. In fact, even the federal government is showing signs of enlightenment and understanding, as evidenced by Table 1, an excerpt from the Department of Labor report Futurework.

Box 3.1 How Long is a Mother's Work Day
5:30 a.m. Get up early to have thirty minutes to exercise, make grocery list while getting dressed
6:30 a.m. Make the kids’ breakfast and their lunches
7:00 a.m. Walk the dog, get kids up, dressed, fed and into the car
8:30 a.m. Take one kid to day care, the other to school, stopping at dry cleaner on the way to work
9:00 a.m. On the job!
1:30 p.m. Meeting at daycare center with childcare provider
2:00 p.m. Back on the job
5:00 p.m. Shut down the computer, forward calls to the cell phone
5:30 p.m. Pick up child from school aftercare and discuss the evening’s homework assignment while driving to the daycare center
6:05 p.m. Pay the late arrival fee at the daycare center. Convince both children to help at the grocery store and do the grocery shopping
7:00 p.m. Arrive home, unload and put away groceries, make dinner, referee a spat between the kids over which evening TV program they’re allowed to watch
7:30 p.m. Dinner time—take a breath, sit down, and enjoy learning about the kids’ day
8:00 p.m. Do the dishes, supervise the kids’ household chores and homework, change the load of laundry put in this morning, and feed the dog
8:30 p.m. Bathe the kids, call home healthcare attendant caring for an elderly parent
9:00 p.m. Read bedtime story and get the kids their last drink of water
9:30 p.m. Sit down and put feet up while folding the laundry; fall asleep over the cable news

Table 1. (DOL, 1999, p. 30).

CNN (1997, December 16). Jury gets ‘Melrose Place’ pregnancy lawsuit [web post]. Retrieved from
Department of Labor [DOL]. (1999). Chapter 3: Work and family. In Futurework- Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century [report]. Retrieved from
Dowd, M. (1997, December 24). Civil rights sirens. The New York Times, pp. A13
Jennings, M. (2008). Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings. Florence, KY: South Western Educational Publishing.
Segura, D. (2009). Working at Motherhood: Chicana and Mexicana immigrant mothers and employment. In V. Taylor, N. Whittier & L. Rupp (Eds.) Feminist Frontiers (pp.308-321). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
United States Department of Labor Women's Bureau [USDLWB]. (1994). In The ‘Lectric Law Library. Retrieved from