Title: Intimate Partner Violence Among Low-Income Urban Families: Economic, Social, and Relational Consequences
Name: Diane M. Purvin
Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Brandeis University
Year: 2002
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

My dissertation, "Intimate Partner Violence Among Low-Income Urban Families: Economic, Social, and Relational Consequences", investigates the nature and outcomes of intimate abuse within a sample of African American, Latino, and Euro-American families in Boston's low-income neighborhoods. Using longitudinal qualitative data, I 1) document the respondents' lifetime and recent abuse experiences; 2) consider how their understanding of these experiences affects decisions and choices in a variety of domains; and 3) analyze the ways in which respondents' experiences, understandings, and actions operate in the context of poverty and the current welfare and domestic violence policy regimes to create consequences for respondents and their families.

The data were gathered over a two-year period as part of the Three-City Welfare, Children, and Families Study Ethnography (see http://www.jhu.edu/~welfare for further details). Detailed field notes and transcripts are being analyzed to understand the characteristics that distinguish families affected by partner violence, to describe their experiences, and to determine the pathways through which intimate partner violence creates economic, social, and relational effects.

Findings to date indicate that of 58 respondents included in the analysis, 36 (62%) experienced violence from an intimate partner ever in their life, 10 (17%) experienced violence from a partner during the course of the study, and 12 (21%) reported having been in more than one abusive partnership. Though information about childhood exposure to intimate partner violence in the respondents' own childhoods was not solicited, this experience was disclosed by 22 of the respondents (38%). These statistics indicate the scope of partner violence experienced by the women and children in this community sample, and suggest the degree to which such abuse is a fact of life for low-income families.

Qualitative analysis reveals that exposure to intimate partner violence both in childhood and in adolescent and adult partnerships affects respondents' beliefs about and choices in later relationships, including those with the paternal figures in their children's lives. For economically vulnerable women, these decisions have direct bearing on their families' economic security and emotional and physical safety. With respect to social policy, only 2 of the respondents accessed welfare provisions designed to protect victims of partner violence. Other welfare requirements actually increased vulnerability among some abused respondents in unanticipated ways. Of greater utility to respondents who were victims of partner violence were the progressive housing provisions locally available to them. The policy in Massachusetts of granting priority to victims of domestic violence for both public housing and voucher subsidies, along with the presence of a strong network of domestic violence shelter and housing programs, enabled 9 respondents who had been partner violence victims to attain and maintain safe homes for themselves and their children away from their abusers. These findings indicate a need to broaden the conceptualization of welfare policy for victims of partner violence.

An article based on this research has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming special edition of the journal Violence Against Women on domestic violence and poverty, and is entitled Weaving a Tangled Safety Net: The Intergenerational Legacy of Domestic Violence and Poverty.