How women in domestic violence shelters experience empowerment
Kenyon, Katherine M.
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Domestic violence shelters offer services key to ending intimate partner violence, but the effect of a shelter stay on women has received little research attention. The present qualitative study examined how a shelter stay affects women’s sense of empowerment, and addressed the following questions: (1) How do women in shelter define empowerment? (2) What are the empowerment experiences of women in shelter? (3) How do shelters support, or hinder, women’s empowerment process? Nine interviews were conducted and analyzed using Fraser’s (2004) narrative method, which situates personal stories within their social context. Four interrelated empowerment processes emerged: self-reflection, gaining clarity, acquiring knowledge, and building community. Three primary shelter elements impacting empowerment were: increasing safety, forming connections, and promoting self-efficacy. This research situates a stay in shelter within the process of empowerment and highlights interpersonal, organizational, and structural influences on women’s empowerment. Suggestions regarding shelter practices and system policies are made.