Multiple Contexts of Violence in the Lives of Adoelscent Females who have been Exposed to Domestic Violence

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Virginia Tech

This study explored the multiple contexts of violence in the lives of female adolescents exposed to domestic violence. The research was guided by ecological, critical and postmodern feminist perspectives. Ecological theory embeds individual and familial experiences within the broader social and historical contexts. Critical theory questions often held assumptions and issues of power. Postmodern feminism extended this theoretical lens into a socio-political context that used gender, race, class, and marginalization as central lenses. This perspective emphasized the importance of context, processes, and the subjective experiences of girls.

Qualitative methods and a constructivist epistemology were used to understand the experiences of six female adolescents, between 14 and 19 whose mothers had experienced domestic violence. I explored how participants reflected on and made sense of their exposure to violence in their families, the multiple contexts of violence to which they were exposed, and the protective factors they had or employed. Four interviews were conducted with each participant, totaling 24 interviews. Poetry was used to gain trust and begin the process of sharing intrapersonal feelings, to externalize thoughts and expressions, and share lived experiences. Two mothers completed lengthy questionnaires. Participants were recruited through an insider's knowledge of multiple agencies, and using snowballing. No participants ever resided in a domestic violence shelter.

This study contributed to our understanding of the lives of adolescent females exposed to domestic violence by elucidating the complexity of the experiences of participants and their families. It reminded us of the contextual importance of describing violence and the ever-changing experience of children exposed to domestic violence. Children learned to cope in multiple ways, but felt alone and powerless. Systems developed to assist youth and families were unable to intervene in a meaningful way, thus extending the feelings of abandonment and powerlessness. Children learned to hide from their feelings and put on a mask to the world. This mask hid the child safely beneath, and ultimately served to distance her from the realities in her midst. But, at what expense? I discuss findings in terms of current resilience theory and provide suggestions for future research and intervention based on these findings.

feminist theory, multiple contexts, adolescence, domestic violence