Adjustment and Needs of African-American Women Who Utilized a Domestic Violence Shelter

By Sullivan, Cris M.; Rumptz, Maureen H. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1994 | Go to article overview

Adjustment and Needs of African-American Women Who Utilized a Domestic Violence Shelter


Sullivan, Cris M., Rumptz, Maureen H., Violence and Victims


To better understand what environmental and contextual factors influence resource acquisition and subsequent adjustment for African-American women who have been battered, this article explores the experiences of 60 women from the 6 months prior to entering a shelter through a 10-week postshelter advocacy program. Results indicate that African-American battered women who use domestic violence shelters face an array of obstacles: Most had been severely abused, were likely to be living below the poverty line, were unemployed, and were in need of numerous resources. However, in spite of numerous obstacles and continued violence, African-American women overall felt confident in themselves and satisfied with their lives 10 weeks after shelter. Results also indicate that short-term advocacy services were beneficial to African-American women exiting a domestic violence shelter. Implications of these findings as they relate to formal community response and further research are discussed.

Although literature on the battering of women has flourished over the last two decades, very little research has been conducted that examines how such violence relates to and affects African-American women specifically. Given that homicide at the hands of their intimate partners or ex-partners is the number one killer of African-American females between the ages of 15 and 34 (National Center for Health Statistics, 1985), the lack of attention paid to this grave social problem is notable.

A good deal of the research examining the effects of battering on women has focused on those who use domestic violence shelters. Although not all battered women turn to domestic violence shelters for assistance, a great many do. Over 2,000 domestic violence programs, primarily shelters, exist across the United States, and most are full at any given time. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the umbrella organization for these programs, estimates that for every woman who receives shelter, three are turned away for lack of space (Rita Smith, personal communication, 1993). For some women, a domestic violence shelter is the only safe and accessible place to which to turn when escaping an abusive man.

Women who use domestic violence shelters have been found to need a variety of community resources. Batterers have successfully kept many women unemployed (Shepard & Pence, 1988), isolated from their family and friends (Mitchell & Hodson, 1983), and afraid for their lives and the lives of their children should they press charges (Browne, 1987). Although battering cuts across all socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious lines, women who utilize domestic violence shelters tend to be more economically impoverished than the general population. Women who have financial resources have more options when dealing with abusive men. They can afford private attorneys, more easily move their residence or stay in hotels, and have cars to leave the area, if necessary. For women who use shelters, however, limited resources often trap them with their assailants. Aguirre (1985) tested four antecedent variables and four covariates to determine what influences a woman's decision whether to return to an abuser. The only variable that affected this decision was the woman's economic dependence on her husband. Strube and Barbour (1983) reported similar findings. Women have reported needing numerous other community resources as well, including affordable housing, child care, and assistance from the police, the legal system, the health care system, and social service agencies (Dobash, Dobash, & Cavanagh, 1985; Gondolf, 1988; Sullivan, Basta, Tan, & Davidson, 1992).

Ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status place African-American women who use domestic violence shelters in triple jeopardy. The unemployment rate for blacks is more than double that for whites (Heckler, 1986), people from low-income homes are more likely to have dropped out of school (Gordon-Bradshaw, 1988), and women of color fall at the bottom of the economic ladder, increasing their vulnerability to hazards and disease (Gordon-Bradshaw, 1988). …

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