Katie Krukenberg is an MSW graduate (2006) from Florida State University and a licensed clinical social worker in North Dakota. She works at the University of Mary and is an assistant professor of social work as well as the director of field education for the social work program.
Social work is a diverse field in terms of the client populations served, types of social work settings and roles of social workers in these settings. Despite this, there are some challenges that clients from all walks of life might encounter that are not limited by age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Examples include mental health challenges and substance abuse, along with intimate partner violence. Students in Florida State University’s MSW program learn how to effectively meet the needs of clients encountering these challenges.
What is Intimate Partner Violence?
The term intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to a type of violence that occurs within the context of an intimate relationship. It is an ongoing pattern of behaviors and abusive tactics used by an intimate partner or ex-partner to maintain power and control over a person’s life. IPV is a type of domestic violence, a term that more generally means violence occurring between any two people residing in the same living space. IPV includes physical, sexual, and emotional/psychological abuse, as well as the associated tactics that the perpetrators use to exert power over the victim. IPV is believed to be an underreported crime. Despite this, statistics indicate that nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form IPV, and 1 in 10 have been raped by an intimate partner (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). No one thing causes IPV and it is a complex social problem. Violence can be a learned behavior, but this does not excuse the abuser from responsibility. Ultimately, violence is a choice.
It is important to remember that despite the higher rates of women reporting having been victim of IPV, men can be victims as well, and may experience additional shame or reluctance to report or seek help due to society’s beliefs about gender roles and masculinity. This is also true of men and women who are in same sex intimate relationships, and may fear seeking help due to uncertainty regarding acceptance of their sexual orientation.
Age can be another misconception; people across the lifespan are susceptible to IPV, including adolescents just beginning to date and elderly persons who may have been living with IPV through the duration of their relationship or have a sudden onset in later years. Also important are clients with disabilities, especially those who may be reliant on their partner for care or assistance with meeting their basic needs, which can make them particularly vulnerable when IPV is present in the relationship.
There are a number of barriers for those seeking to leave an abusive relationship, and even more so in rural areas. A person may not even realize that the violence in their relationship is not normal, if this is the only kind of relationship they have observed or been in. They might also truly love their partner. Not all relationships start out with violence, leading the person to believe that it might be temporary or that the perpetrator will change. They may have a lack of options for housing, financial security, or transportation, which can also create a fear of losing any children the victim has. Parents may feel that children are better off being raised in a family with two parents, despite the violence, or may experience pressure from family or perceived messages from religious institutions that lead the victim to believe that divorce is not an option. Ultimately safety may be the greatest barrier faced by victims in relationships with violence; victims are often at the greatest risk when they attempt to leave an unsafe relationship.
How Can Social Workers Help to Address Intimate Partner Violence?
Below are some of the ways that social workers can play an important role in addressing IPV in communities.
- It is important to ensure that service providers are welcoming and affirming of all people through the names of agencies themselves (ex. Women’s Rape and Abuse Center).
- The use of posters and billboards that represent a variety of diverse clients, as well as inclusive language on forms and during intakes (such as asking if the person has a partner rather than asking a woman if she has a boyfriend/husband), are also important.
- Implementing universal screening questions and procedures for all clients during intakes, such as meeting with the client alone and asking questions like, “Do you feel safe at home?” can help to create opportunities for people to disclose if they are experiencing IPV.
- Being knowledgeable about barriers faced by people attempting to leave unsafe relationships and community resources can ensure that clients get the emotional support they need as well as assistance navigating service providers and advocacy regarding legal intervention.
Increasing awareness in communities is important to ensure that when someone experiences IPV, they know that they are not alone and that help is available.