Adjustment and Needs of African-American Women Who Utilized a Domestic Violence Shelter
Cris M. Sullivan, & Maureen H. Rumptz, Michigan State University

Published: Violence and Victims, V. 9 (3), 1994, 275-286

What is the purpose of this study?
This study arose out of a concern that there is insufficient information about how domestic violence specifically affects African-American women. The study explores the needs of this population and suggests ways to better address them. Researchers look at the relationship between study participants' well-being and their experiences of domestic violence, access to community resources, and perception of social support. In the study half the study participants received advocacy services upon leaving a domestic violence shelter. Researchers evaluate the effect such services have on the adjustment of these women compared to others who did not receive advocacy services. How African-American women differed from White study participants in terms of needs and the effect of advocacy services on their sense of well-being is examined, and implications for serving this population are presented.

How was this study conducted?
This study focused on a sub-group of sixty African-American women from a group of 141 women who participated in a larger study that explored how women adjust after leaving a domestic violence shelter. The study presented in this article focused solely on African-American women, who were shelter residents, and their adjustment during the first 10 weeks after leaving the shelter. About half of the women (48%) received advocacy services during the 10-week, post shelter period. Assessments of needs, abuse histories, and well-being were conducted with study participants immediately upon leaving the shelter and 6 months later.

Involvement with assailant & abuse after leaving shelter
  1. The majority (72%) of study participants stated that they did not want to continue involvement with the assailant when they left the shelter, and 71% were able to stay uninvolved through the 10-week, post-shelter period.
  2. Seventy-five percent of the women who resumed involvement with their assailants experienced violence.
  3. Thirty-five percent of the women who had not continued involvement with their assailants experienced violence.
  4. Forty-six percent of the sixty participants continued to experience abuse from partners after leaving the shelter regardless of whether or not the women received advocacy services.
The effect of advocacy services
All sixty study participants reported improved psychological well-being and living circumstances at 10 weeks post-shelter regardless of whether or not they received advocacy services. Both groups also reported improved feelings of personal control, social support and overall quality of life. Some differences between the two groups (advocacy vs. no advocacy services) were found:
  1. Women who received advocacy services differed significantly from those who did not in three areas. They reported better sense of:
    1. Social support
    2. Quality of life
    3. Effectiveness in obtaining needed resources
  2. There were no differences between the two groups in the following areas:
    1. Depression
    2. Fear and anxiety
    3. Amount of continued physical or psychological abuse
    4. Emotional attachment to the abuser
Differences between African-American and White shelter residents who participated in the larger study
African-American study participants differed significantly from White participants in a number of ways:
  1. African-American participants had longer shelter stays, and reported
    1. More severe abuse in the six months prior to entering the shelter
    2. Incomes below poverty level more than White counterparts
    3. More dependents (children)
    4. Less access to a car for transportation
    5. Greater need for health services, material goods and services, and financial assistance.
  2. In addition, African-American participants were significantly less likely to be involved with their assailants 10 weeks after leaving the shelter.
  3. White study participants were more likely to express interest in obtaining psychological counseling services.
Implications for improving services to African-American battered women
African-American women in this study reported more severe abuse than White women. Why this difference exists is not fully understood, but researchers recommend that domestic violence shelters reach out more to the African-American community. They suggest that better information would help African-American women overcome misperceptions or fears about using existing remedies to domestic violence, and as a result will not wait until the violence is severe before seeking help. Improving ethnic diversity and sensitivity to ethnic differences at domestic violence shelters is also suggested.

Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
Center for Trauma Recovery
University of Missouri - St. Louis
October 31, 2001

Feedback Join Us Site Map VAWPrevention Home
  National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center © Copyright 2000
(843) 792-2945/telephone       (843)  792-3388/fax