“Even if they live a destructive life, at least they won´t die” A qualitative study of how social workers at housing facilities for individuals in homelessness and substance abuse perceive and act upon violence against women
Abstract: The aim of this study is, from a Swedish point of view, to investigate and analyse how social workers at housing facilities for people in homelessness and substance abuse perceive and act upon violence against women. Previous research demonstrates that women in substance abuse are more commonly subjected to violence than women without substance abuse. Women with substance abuse that also live in homelessness, are in an even greater risk to be subjected to violence Women in homelessness and substance abuse might live in shelters. Women that live in shelters have a high-risk life and a big vulnerability to victimisation. They risk being subjected to violence by a range of different perpetrators. Because of this vulnerability it is of interest to investigate and analyse how social workers at shelters, understand and act upon violence against women. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were used to answer the research questions: (1) How do the social workers understand the issue of violence against women at the housing facilities? (2) How do the social workers explain possible occurrences of violence against women at the housing facilities? (3) How are the social workers handling the issue of violence against women at the housing facilities? The data gathered from the interviews were analysed through a theoretical framework consisting of two central perspectives of violence against women; individual focused and structural perspectives, as well as the normalisation process theory, the social support theory and two perspectives of power; power over and power to. It was found that: the social workers experience that women at the housing facilities are at risk to be subjected to violence by intimate partners as well as a range of other perpetrators. All of the social workers have experiences of housed women being subjected to violence at the housing facilities. The social workers both used structural and individual focused explanations, as well as explanations based on the normalising process of violence when they were talking about the issue. Individual factors such as homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness as well as the masculine environment of the housing facility is described to make the women even more vulnerable in the patriarchal social system. The social workers emphasise the importance of the relationship to the women, to be able to provide social support and address concerns about violence. It is explained that they engage in support and counselling also for the perpetrators in order to support the women. The social workers describe that they try to protect the women by controlling the physical room and intervene in potentially violent situations between housed individuals. However, their power to protect the women seems to be limited. It is explained to be a challenge to help the women when the women, society and sometimes also the social workers tend to normalise the violence. Helping the women on an individual level by reducing the harm seems to be the approach, rather than working for structural changes and concrete interventions.
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