Following on from the argument we developed in the last chapter, we are not so naive as to assume that gaining a voice as a user group would leave abused women wholly better off. User participation has been widely critiqued as open to tokenism, co-option and exploitation. There needs to be a clear understanding of the dangers and limitations, and of action that can be taken to combat these, if women are to obtain full benefit from a new level of involvement. Indeed, our own research study (reported in later chapters) sought to distinguish between the mere semblance of involvement, on the one hand, and survivors of domestic violence exerting actual influence and decision-making power, on the other.
The problems with both the theory and practice of empowerment through user participation are well-documented (Croft and Beresford, 1996; Humphries, 1996; Ramcharan et al., 1997). They revolve around issues such as competing ideals, professional vested interests and the demands of funders. In this chapter, we explore a range of barriers to empowerment, grouped under considerations of conflicting models, managerial and professional agendas, practical obstacles and contested understandings of power. All of these may prevent abused women, as well as other groups of service users, from having a full say in the policies and services they need to help them survive. In the chapters that follow, based on our research with women survivors of domestic abuse, we will see some of these obstacles operating in practice, as well as a number of effective ways round them, and we will conclude with some useful advice to those who want to be part of abused women gaining a real voice in refuge, multi-agency and statutory responses to men's violence.
We saw in the last chapter how there can be a tension, even within the aims of user movements themselves, between concrete change and a broader philosophy of consciousness-raising and empowerment. At the