Spouse Abuse: A Phenomenological Study Poster Session Academic Excellence by Ingrid Adams forED534M
Spouse Abuse – Definition The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has defined domestic abuse as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Such violence is perpetrated in a relationship between present or past intimate partners. It is the act or the intention to inflict harm. Abusers seek to control, intimidate, or humiliate their victims. Abuse may be physical, sexual or psychological in nature (Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, 2003).
Spouse Abuse – A Metaphorical Description An abused women’s voice…. “Place a frog into a pot of cold water with the heat on low. The frog never makes the connection to danger because the water heats slowly over time. Unable to identify the danger the animal does not jump out. The frog will eventually die, shriveled by the heat carefully managed a fractional degree at a time. That is the work of an effective abuser. Bruises are explained in terms of bumps against a post, headaches from slaps, or pulling of hair become hormone related issues, and so on. If the bubble of abuse is not exploded by a tragic event in life, or slowly punctured over time by compassionate inquiry from friends, family, or medical providers, the woman, like the frog will slowly die. Not necessarily a physical death. Worse, she will die a psychological death. The work of the abuser is now only routine maintenance.”
Oregon Statistics on Spouse Abuse The Oregon Department of Human Services, Women’s Health and Safety Survey report (2001-2002) identified 85,576 women who have been physically and/or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner in the past five years. This represents one in ten Oregon women between the ages of 20-55. Reflects three percent of the actual female population at any given time. Women averaged eight assaults during those five years for a total of 626,869 physically violent incidents.
Study Design – Population Study participants were recruited through women crisis shelters, professional contacts, and personal circle of friends. Age of participants 30-65. I ultimately interviewed: 6 women whom have had abuse perpetrated against them in their intimate relationships. All were currently out of their abuse relationships and safe from their abusers. Time away from abuser ranged from 4 month to 30 years. 2 domestic violence advocates (volunteers), one male and one female.
Study Design – Data Collection Time: I met with all participants for in-depth interviews that lasted about 2 hours each. Interviews: Meetings were intense, inspiring, informative, emotionally disturbing, sad, draining, …. Challenges: Sometimes it was a challenge to keep the researcher hat on and keep professional boundaries. Learning: With each interview I found that I was able to improve my qualitative research interviewing skills.
Data Analysis – Themes and Categories From the interviews I was able to extract 63 significant statements which I collapsed into four major themes: 1. Issues of Power – Trust 2. Strong Emotions Fear, anger, grief and sadness, guilt, and shame 3. Socio-economic 4. Knowing – Knowledge
Literature – Study Grounding Formal Avenues of Support Medical Community Legal/Judicial/Social Services Theology Feminist Movement Informal Avenues of Support Family Friends
Excerpts from the Data – Issues of Power & Trust …anonymity in the legal system, social service system, and the medical system is paramount for women’s safety…. “In a small town it is very difficult to retain anonymity. You go and visit a doctor or a councilor and the receptionist sees you. The person transcribing medical documents knows what you said. Maybe that person knows someone and without meaning to gossip or brake confidence that person will say something to someone who will repeat it and so on. Women are not safe from their abuser anywhere but the shelters. But, the shelters have to be left and then you are once again out there.”
Excerpts from the Data – Issues of Power & Trust …consequences of judicial disclosure… “He found me after 16 years He knocked on my door, greeted me with a punch in the face that broke my nose and my jaw just as he had done 16 years prior. All compliments of the legal system. The last words I could hear were “One day I will find you again and then I will kill you.” I hear that echo every time I open the door.”
Excerpts from the Data – Issues of Power & Trust …struggle of standing strong against abusers…. “I had no idea about what he was doing. In retrospect I see that he brainwashed me one neuron at the time. When the psychic warfare he was engaged in became physical I realized for a moment what he was doing. At that same moment I think I shut down all intellectual ability to accept that his behavior and treatment towards me was abuse. Sure, the bruises on my body were now the physical manifestation of the mental beatings but I could not accept that my dream of a family, my love for him, and my life, was shattered. In the past two years I have had cancer, suffer from insomnia, and am plagued with episodic depression. I have PDSD, evident in health issues that arise when I have to deal with my abuser. I worry about the physiological health of my little son. Even though we are divorced I have to deal with my abuser regularly and he continues to apply emotional pressure wherever and whenever he can. I have custody of our son. He has visitation rights. I worry about the long term psychological health of my son.”
Excerpts from the Data – Strong Emotions -Fear In all socioeconomic strata women feared the loss of their children. Where socio economic means allowed judicial paths for taking the child, the abuser fought actively in court. “….often times it is not the fear of physical harm, but fear of having the children taken away. The system is very quick at taking the kids. Children get ripped from your arms. It is terrifying! Women suffer abuse not only by their abuser, but also by the legal system. Once the children are taken away it is hell to get them back. The abuser knows this and it gives him one more ace to play in the control game.”
Excerpts from the Data – Strong Emotions - Grief and Sadness ….despair about the abandonment by family, the judgment by society, and expressed hopelessness about the future… “…the pain makes you blind. …at one point in the relationship I lost my will to live. I attempted suicide three times. …the third time I was committed to the mental hospital one week for evaluation. There I was diagnosed as being bipolar….whatever that means. Not even there did anyone asked about the possible underlying causes for my depression. In retrospect I would advocate for myself so much more. But it is hard to talk about abuse when you are terrified of your abuser. …my child is in protective custody and I don’t know what the future holds.”
Excerpts from the Data – Strong Emotions - Grief & Sadness … advocate who at the time of the interview was a member of the domestic violence crisis response team with the local city police department expanded on the participants’ sense of sadness: “…one night I arrived at the scene of a domestic call. The woman had walked down the street with just a few plastic bags filled with her belongings. When I caught up with her I asked her where she was going. Her reply was “I don’t know, all I know is that I can’t stay here anymore.” “…a mother greeted me outside her door. I hugged her and she began to sob. “I am so glad to see you” she said “I though I was all alone…”
Excerpts from the Data – Socio-economic ….healthcare costs, legal custody battles, restraining orders create difficulty finding housing in healthy neighborhoods…. “…I went to a therapist recently, but that therapist left and I don’t have health insurance to see her in her new clinic. I would have liked to see her more…I think I could benefit from therapy. ” …”In the past two years I have had cancer, suffer from insomnia, and am plagued with episodic depression. I have Post Dramatic Stress Disorder (PDSD), evident in health issues that arise when I have to deal with my abuser. Last summer we had another round of custody battle and I developed an unexplained rash all over my body. I worry about the physiological health of my little son. Even though we are divorced I have to deal with my abuser regularly and he continues to apply emotional pressure wherever and whenever he can. I have custody of our son. He has visitation rights. I worry about the long term psychological health of my son. I currently have health insurance through my employer. I feel fortunate.”
Excerpts from the Data – Knowledge-Knowing All participants interviewed were passionate about the need to educate not only themselves about the phenomena of spouse abuse, but also about educating the formal and informal networks. “… I do believe health care providers need to be much more educated about the topic because spouse abuse is much more common than people think. What would be very helpful is for health care workers to understand the risk of leaving an abusive partner. Contrary to general opinions and advice, women cannot “just leave” an abuser. Each time a woman attempts to leave the risk of injury goes up, not only for herself, but also for her children, and for her extended family.
Excerpts from the Data – Knowledge-Knowing “…Concise information about what spouse abuse needs to reach abused women. Bulleted brochures that spell out in detail: if he does X…that is abuse. Such literature needs to address all forms of abuse, mental, physiological, and physical, each with if he does X…. that is abuse. This would help women who do not come from abusive families to identify behaviors that victims have been conditioned to accept as normal. This type of information needs to be visible to all, the abuser, the victim, the general public. It should be in the lobby, in both gender bathrooms, and in the examining rooms. In addition there needs to be information about how children are affected by spouse abuse.” “…Pediatricians need to know about what disease symptom in a child may be as a result of witnessing domestic violence. They need to be educated about domestic violence so to not judge the women and be a supportive network in abused women’s struggle to protect and keep their children.”
Excerpts from the Data – Knowledge-Knowing …advocates interviewed stressed education about spouse abuse in both the formal and informal networks. “Spouse abuse must be understood for what it is. It is an individuals need to control another human being. An abuser controls through various actions and combination of actions. He controls by physical abuse, by removing the possibility for dialogue, by shattering a partner’s self-confidence, by means of controlling family resources, by isolating the person from family and friends, by withholding intimacy, and by shaming about the need for intimacy. From what I have witnessed, women and their children are traumatized for a long time if not for life. In my experience with victims I don’t believe there is any way around it. In the continuum of abuse, the mental abuse component of partner violence is the most brutal and long lasting. All victims of abuse are to some degree mentally re-programmed by her abuser. Women develop a personality outside of the self. In this process women loose the ability to identify themselves outside of the abuse. We all need to know these issues well to advocate effectively for women, their children, and ultimately for the health of society.”
Excerpts from the Data – Knowledge-Knowing The male advocate interviewed called on more men to step forward as advocates for women in domestic violent relationships. Such an effort he viewed as men educating men about the equality of women in society and relationships. He expressed his vision of spouse abuse and shared his passion about spouse abuse education. He said: “The secret behind spouse abuse is a control issue. Abusers have no control so they take it from women by force. It’s a pity. People need to understand and be educated about the fact that spouse abuse is a crime! IT IS A CRIME! The whole thing is education on all fronts. If we can do this effectively we can reduce this horrible violence.”
Closing Comment of Findings Women in abusive relationships face many hurdles on their path toward a life without violence. What abused women wish from their informal and formal support networks is trust in their decisions however unreasonable these decisions may seem to the observer. What women asked for is confidentiality and anonymity from both networks – formal and informal - for their safety and for their children’s safety.