After the Crisis: A Needs Assessment of Women Leaving a Domestic Violence Shelter

Article excerpt

The current study presents the results of a needs assessment of 141 women exiting an emergency shelter for women with abusive partners. Extensive in-person interviews were conducted. Results indicate that battered women need numerous community resources upon their shelter exit, including legal assistance, employment, and housing. Race, age, and whether a woman was returning to her assailant influenced which resources she reported needing at shelter exit. Most of the women had experienced severe abuse and injuries, and required physical protection. Implications of these findings as they relate to program development and integration of social services are discussed.

Many battered women attempt to leave their assailants numerous times before being successful in escaping them permanently (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Gelles, 1979; Gondolf, 1988; Hofeller, 1982; Roy, 1977; Schulman, 1979; Strube & Barbour, 1983). It has been suggested that a critical reason so many women remain with or return to their assailants is lack of access to community resources (Aguirre, 1985; Gondolf, 1988; Hofeller, 1982; Hilbert & Hilbert, 1984; Horton, Simonidis, & Simonidis, 1987; Mitchell & Hodson, 1983; Sidel, 1986; Strube & Barbour, 1983). Specifically, these resources have included employment, education, housing, finances, childcare, and legal assistance. For example, Hofeller (1982) reported that more than half of her sample of battered women stayed with their assailants because they felt they could not support themselves and/or their children. Similarly, Stacey and Shupe (1983) reported the most frequent response given for returning to abusers was economic reasons (30%).

In addition to economic factors, battered women indicate many other reasons for staying with abusive men, such as fear, reprisals from the abuser, and no place to go because of the children (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Roy, 1977; Strube & Barbour, 1984). Hofeller (1982) found that while 58% of her sample stayed because of economic reasons, a significant percentage also felt unable to live on their own and/or had been threatened with worse violence were they to leave. Strube and Barbour (1984) reported the following factors significantly contributed to a woman's decision to stay with or leave her assailant: employment, length of relationship, economic hardship, love, ethnicity, nowhere to go, whether or not she obtained a restraining order, and the partner promising to change. Dobash and Dobash (1979) reported the following reasons women stayed with or returned to their abusers: the children, financial support, lack of accommodations, and inadequate childcare.

Prior research found women with abusive partners actively sought assistance from their communities to end violence against them. These efforts included calling the police, obtaining restraining orders and other legal assistance, contacting social workers, obtaining medical help, and seeking assistance from family and friends. Gondolf's (1988) comprehensive study of over 6,000 women from 50 different shelters found women had made an average of six helpseeking efforts prior to entering the shelter. The sample in Horton et al.'s (1987) study of women obtaining injunctions had contacted an average of 3.48 different resources. Wauchope's (1988) nationally representative sample of 3,665 women revealed 68% of the battered women had sought help.

Community resources which have been found to positively impact a woman's chances of ending the violence against her have included legal assistance (Aguirre, 1985; Horton etal., 1987), social support (Bowker, 1984; Donate & Bowker, 1984; Mitchell & Hodson, 1983), and access to childcare (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Gondolf, 1988). Evidence suggests, however, many women with abusive partners lack the very resources necessary to effectively escape their assailants. Without access to legal assistance, with nowhere to go, and with little or no money, it should not be surprising that many women are unsuccessful in their attempts to leave abusive relationships. …