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“You Don’t Need Nobody Else Knocking you Down”: Survivor-Mothers’ Experiences of Surveillance in Domestic Violence Shelters

Abstract

For survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), the act of seeking help from a domestic violence (DV) shelter can incur enormous costs. One cost is what we refer to as “parenting surveillance:” that is, DV advocates can monitor, evaluate, and sometimes control survivors’ parenting—activities given weight through their mandated reporter role. Although surveillance has long been a feature of state intervention into family life, particularly for low-income women of color, it is largely unexplored in the DV shelter system. This is a striking gap: Though most DV programs are committed to supporting survivors’ autonomy and empowerment, the surveillance of parenting may echo abusive dynamics from which survivors are attempting to escape. This qualitative-descriptive study aimed to explore survivor-mothers’ experiences of parenting surveillance among 12 residents of four shelters. Qualitative content analysis yielded five clusters: Survivor-mothers (1) experience and witness parenting surveillance in their programs even as they also find support, (2) describe negative psychological responses to surveillance, (3) report effects on parenting from surveillance, (4) cope with and resist surveillance, and (5) offer recommendations that minimize or diminish surveillance. Although surveillance is a structural phenomenon, baked into the policies and practices of DV shelters, participants’ experiences of it vary based on their personal identities and histories and their relationships with advocates. Despite these variations, however, the costs of surveillance for mothers is significant. For advocates, addressing this phenomenon requires pragmatic and relational shifts grounded in empathy for survivor-mothers’ subjective experience of parenting in challenging conditions.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to recognize each of the women who participated in this study, who took time out of their lives during a time of vulnerability and transition, to share a part of their story. We are grateful for their generosity and kindness, and deeply moved by their insights and commitment to other survivors. We are also deeply grateful for the domestic violence program staff, advocates, and leadership who not only enabled, but also generously welcomed and encouraged this research. We would also like to recognize the hard work and contributions of our research team, including Astrid Burke, Laura Gonzalez, and Brenna Lincoln. The first author would also like to appreciate Janet Hyde Graduate Research Grant and the SPSSI Grants-in-Aid Award for their generous support, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Sparks and Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra for their insights and feedback on the development of this research.

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Correspondence to Jennifer E. Fauci or Lisa A. Goodman.

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This article is based on the first author’s dissertation, supervised by the second author.

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Fauci, J.E., Goodman, L.A. “You Don’t Need Nobody Else Knocking you Down”: Survivor-Mothers’ Experiences of Surveillance in Domestic Violence Shelters. J Fam Viol 35, 241–254 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-019-00090-y

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Keywords

  • Domestic violence
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Shelters
  • Surveillance
  • Parenting
  • Mothers
  • Mandated reporting
  • Advocacy