Cultural Models of Domestic Violence: Perspectives of Social Work and Anthropology Students

By Collins, Cyleste C.; Dressier, William W. | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Cultural Models of Domestic Violence: Perspectives of Social Work and Anthropology Students


Collins, Cyleste C., Dressier, William W., Journal of Social Work Education


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A pervasive social problem that can demand attention from a variety of social service providers (see Pyles, 2006; Pyles & Postmus, 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Social workers who come into contact with families who are affected by domestic violence can provide these families with hope by linking them with important services. Some research has found, however, that social workers hold biases and stereotypes about domestic violence (Danis & Lockhart, 2003; Ross & Glisson, 1991), and that they frequently fail to provide necessary services to victims (Eisikovits & Buchbinder, 1996; Kok, 2001). Research has suggested that it is important to identify workers' ideas about the causes of and appropriate treatment for domestic violence in tackling these issues (Davis, 1984; Davis & Carlson, 1981). The aim of this article is to examine the cultural models of domestic violence shared by social work students and other social science students and to introduce methods with which to elicit and examine those cultural models.

Even when victims of domestic violence do not seek shelter or other services from domestic violence agencies, they often become engaged with the social welfare system in a number of other ways, including when they need financial and other types of assistance (Brandwein, 1999; Raphael, 2001), or are faced with questions about the welfare of their children (Edleson, 1999; Kohl, Edleson, English, & Barth, 2005; Postmus & Ortega, 2005). Although recent progress in social policy has increased funding for and awareness of domestic violence, research continues to indicate that victims of domestic violence encounter a number of barriers in their interactions with human service professionals.

Research has found that even when domestic violence victims disclose their abuse status to their caseworkers, they often feel uncomfortable doing so (Busch & Wolfer, 2002; Saunders, Holter, Pahl, Tolman, & Kenna, 2005). Some welfare workers inappropriately screen (Levin, 2001; Postmus, 2000; Postmus, 2004; Owens-Manly, 1999) or otherwise fail to identify clients eligible for accessing the Family Violence Option (McNutt, Carlson, Rose, & Robinson, 2002) or similar programs that allow domestic violence victims to obtain waivers for time limits and other restrictions enacted under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P. L. 104-193). Welfare workers also tend to underestimate the numbers of victims that apply for assistance (Kok, 2001) and sometimes provide inappropriate services when encountering victims (Brandwein, 1999). Some welfare offices have addressed this problem by placing domestic violence advocates in welfare offices and training staff to be aware of the barriers that victims of domestic violence face. These programs have met with varying levels of success (Kok, 2001), but are steps in the right direction. As professionals become educated about domestic violence, victims' challenges in accessing the services to which they are entitled should decrease.

Improving victims' access to services requires better understanding how professionals think about and approach domestic violence cases. One way to investigate this is to ask whether particular groups of professionals share ideas, ideas that might have been formulated on the basis of having undergone common training and therefore result in a professional culture. Answering such questions requires that we deconstruct the concept of culture. Recent research has pointed out the problematic nature of social work's usage of the term "culture" (see Park, 2005). Culture has been commonly understood in social work and other fields to be an all-encompassing term (D'Andrade, 1999), sometimes standing in for racial and ethnic characteristics (e.g., Hispanic culture), as well as aspects of the environment (e.g., office culture) (Park, 2005). Common to these descriptions of culture is the idea of sharing. …

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