Applying Social Cognitive Career Theory to the Empowerment of Battered Women

Article excerpt

During the past 30 years, the issues of domestic violence and battered women have received increasing attention both nationally and globally through media campaigns, legislation initiatives, and research conducted in disciplines such as criminal justice, social science, and women's studies (Ellseberg, Caldera, Herrera, Winkvist, & Kullgren, 1999; Fawcett, Heise, Isita-Espejel, & Pick, 1999; Gelles, 1997; Gondolf & Fisher, 1988; Horne, 1999; Kozu, 1999; P. T. McWhirter, 1999; Walker, 1999). The existing literature on the consequences of domestic violence has informed practice by describing the emergency safety and personal counseling needs of battered women, as well as best practices for the provision of mental health and advocacy services in shelters, hospitals, legal systems, and community centers (Browne, 1993; Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996; Sullivan & Bybee, 1999; Weisz, Tolman, & Bennett, 1998). Although this literature base has grown tremendously in the past decade, little attention has been given to the longer term impact of domestic violence on battered women's career development and the role of career counseling and intervention in assisting women with longer term recovery. The purpose of this article is to highlight the effects of domestic violence on women's vocational and educational well-being. Constructs and tenets of social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) are described and applied to the ecology (i.e., sociocultural context) of battered women's experiences. Finally, we provide a framework for empowering battered women and promoting their career development and attainment using SCCT.

DEFINITIONS

For the purpose of this article, we define battered women as those who are or have been targets of domestic violence. Domestic violence has been characterized with respect to four dimensions of abuse: emotional, physical, sexual, and economic (Womenspace, 1998), and we attend to each of these dimensions in our discussion of social cognitive constructs, focusing more specifically on economic abuse. The terms vocational and career are used interchangeably throughout the article.

BATTERED WOMEN AND CAREER COUNSELING

A comprehensive review of four decades of research yielded only three articles that discussed guidelines and strategies for career counseling with battered women (Bowen, 1982; Gianakos, 1999; Ibrahim & Herr, 1987) and one article outlining battered women's perceived career barriers and career decision-making self-efficacy (Brown, Reedy, Fountain, Johnson, & Dichiser, 2000). Many social service agencies that serve battered women provide valuable information about employment opportunities, job training, and, less frequently, vocational programs. This information is important because most battered women need immediate financial resources after leaving an abusive partner.

Although such resources often assist a battered woman to permanently leave a dangerous domestic situation, they do not restore longer term career and educational opportunities to battered women (Walsh & Osipow, 1994). Research shows that these longer term opportunities may be essential for women to provide for their family's needs without their abuser's contributions, to achieve economic independence, and ultimately to leave abusive situations permanently (Strube, 1988; Sullivan & Bybee, 1999). A short-term employment focus also ignores the developmental nature of career and educational interests and pursuits, as well as the complex array of barriers that battered women face long after leaving an abusive relationship. Most important, the lack of attention to the effects of domestic violence on career development ignores the complex interrelationships between women's intimate partnerships and career interests and achievements. Given the critical importance of economic stability in allowing a woman to achieve and maintain a minimal standard of living and to leave an abusive situation permanently, attention to battered women's educational and career experiences, skills, interests, and goals is warranted. …