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Meeting Survivors' Needs Through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services and Supports

Mary Louise Kelley, Director of the Family Violence Prevention Services, Department of Health and Human Services; Anne Menard, Director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; Eleanor Lyon, principal investigator of the study, Meeting Survivors' Needs Through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services and Supports

Mary Louise Kelley, Director of the Family Violence Prevention Services program at the Department of Health and Human Services, is joined by Anne Menard, Director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and Eleanor Lyon, the principal investigator to discuss a study focused on nonresidential domestic violence services.


Mary Louise Kelley I'm Mary Louise Kelley. I'm Director of the Family Violence Prevention Services program at the Department of Health and Human Services, and I'm joined today by Anne Menard, Director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and Eleanor Lyon, the principal investigator on the research project Meeting Survivors' Needs Through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services and Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study.

Study Focus

Kelley So this study focused on nonresidential domestic violence services because it is a growing segment of domestic violence services, and it was an opportunity to hear from people who might be less likely to access shelter services.

Why Was The Study Conducted?

Kelley So to start this morning let's talk about why. Anne, perhaps you can tell us a little bit about why you thought the National Resource Center thought it was important to conduct this study.

Anne Menard Thanks, Mary Louise. Well, certainly as advocates, as you have already mentioned, we're interested in learning more about what survivors were looking for when they reached out for emergency shelter, which was the focus of the Meeting Survivor Needs shelter study, and then nonresidential services, support groups, advocacy and counseling, and other support services. We certainly have a sense of that from our ongoing work with survivors, but this was a way of getting—systematically gathering—information from a diverse set of survivors from across the country and learning more about, again, what their needs were, what their expectations were, how satisfied they were with the services that were provided, and the kind of impact having access to those kinds of services had on their lives.

Study Overview

Kelley Well, let's turn to Dr. Lyon. I know that this study of nonresidential domestic violence services builds on your body of work at the University of Connecticut, where you served as Director of the Institute for Violence Prevention and Reduction. I wanted to ask if you'd give us an overview of the study, how it was conducted and what you hoped to learn.

Eleanor Lyon Okay. Thank you, Mary Louise. Yes, this was a study that followed up on the shelter study, which was a study that was conducted in eight states. We worked with four different states. The state of Alabama, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington. So we were interested in getting information from programs that might be more community-based and that might be providing services to culturally specific organizations, and so we also partnered with four culturally specific national organizations and their associated programs across the country. These included the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, Casa de Esperanza, the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community and the Women of Color Network.

We involved a total combined of 90 programs, and we received responses from nearly 1,500 survivors.

Significant Findings

Kelley And what do you consider to be some of the most significant findings that came out of the study?

Lyon The primary findings, the most significant findings, are three-fold. First of all, that survivors overwhelmingly found the services and supports they received from domestic violence programs to be very helpful. Over three quarters reported that each of the services and supports that they received were very helpful. Secondly, the study documents the incredible complexity and range of needs that survivors have when they come to domestic violence programs. We looked at a large number and—at 54 different needs, and they averaged nearly half of those needs. And third, survivors associate very positive outcomes to the services that they have received from programs, including increased hope, safety and confidence, which we have found to be connected in other studies to longer-term well being, so I think those are incredibly positive findings.

Does Nationality Matter?

Kelley Were survivors who were not born in the United States more likely to need additional services? What were some of your findings?

Lyon Well, we did find that while they reported needing on average a slightly higher number of services, when we controlled for other factors we found that people who—the survivors that were likely to have, to report, the highest number of needs were those who had less completed education, were younger in age, and it was nearly significant, that is sort of researcher-speak, for those who had less ability to speak English and were in more financial difficulty. So we found that there were other life circumstances that had an impact that surpassed whether or not someone was born in the U.S.

Male Survivors

Kelley I know there was an effort to reach out to male survivors of domestic violence. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you learned from them in their focus group?

Lyon It was a small focus group. I think it was particularly interesting that these were men who had received services from different programs, so they had not met before, and they were a particularly enthusiastic group because they were so thrilled to be able to talk with other men about their experience. And they talked about the particular shame and humiliation—the stigma that they felt being a male survivor of domestic violence—and that they really strongly recommended that programs make very clear that they do provide services to men, as programs do, but it's not always as clear in the advertising that programs provide services to men. So they thought that was particularly important so that men would know that there is recourse for them.

Study Implications

Kelley Now, Anne, I want to ask you, when you look at some of the findings that came out of this study, what do you see as some of the implications for the field, for the training and technical assistance that your Resource Center offers?

Menard Now, that's a great question, and there are some important findings related to training and practice. Certainly, as Eleanor has already mentioned, this study confirmed what we understood, but now have more concrete information about, that domestic violence survivors have multiple and complex needs, and so our services really need to respond in a comprehensive way. And it suggests that we need a broader range at many domestic violence programs in order to respond to this complex array of needs. Need to develop collaborative approaches and collaborative partnerships with other community organizations.

This study confirmed, as did the shelter study, that many survivors want or need to remain in a relationship with the person who has abused them, either because of court orders to do so, or they are interested in co-parenting. They want the father of the children to be involved in those children's lives. And so that reinforces the importance of safety planning that takes this reality into account, and of the need on many survivors' part or the interest on many survivors' part, to have services available to the person who was abusing them.

And again, as Eleanor's information has underscored, hopefully, for any of the listeners, that culturally appropriate and competent services are vital. We've got survivors with a diverse set of needs and diverse backgrounds that are reaching out to services.

I think another finding that emerged, which hasn't been mentioned yet, is that the state of the economy continues to have a negative effect on survivors. About 45 percent of the survivors reported experiencing financial difficulties, including many not being able to pay their bills. The study also found that domestic violence programs themselves are dealing with the impact of the economic downturn that was still occurring.

Any Surprises?

Kelley I would like to ask you whether there were any findings that were surprising to you.

Lyon I can't say that I'm surprised, but I think something that we continue to see evidence of, that is important for people to keep in mind, is the enormous complexity and diversity of survivors' needs, and as Anne highlighted earlier, the fact that a large percentage of survivors want help staying in their relationship safely. So they are not always having leaving the relationship as their primary concern. So you need to be thinking more about how to provide supports that can be responsive to that desire on the part of survivors.

Menard Again, I am not surprised, but was interested to see the extent to which economic issues were identified by survivors. They reach out to domestic violence programs for help with employment, with housing, with transportation, with child care, with responding to the impact of economic abuse and the need for credit repair, and other kinds of things that they are struggling with as a result of having an abusive partner who has damaged them economically, as well as in other ways. So I think this continues to underscore the importance of increasing the capacity of domestic violence programs to respond to this range of economic issues that survivors are bringing to our programs.

How The Study Helps The Field?

Kelley How do you see the information that we've gleaned from this study helping advocates to do a better job?

Menard Again, I think it's a reminder of the importance of understanding and listening carefully to, and then understanding, the particular circumstances of the survivor that's in front of you. Not making assumptions, but really being present to respond directly or through partnerships with other community partners to, again, this very broad range of needs that survivors identified, to the extent that we can. I think the advocates working directly with survivors need to help figure out ways that they can continue to document the needs that are raised by survivors that programs do not have the capacity to respond to, so that we can identify emerging areas of need and bring those to funders and to policymakers in our interest of remaining survivor-defined in our advocacy, but also comprehensive in our response.

Date Created: August 13, 2019