The Influence of Low-Barrier and Voluntary Service Policies on Survivor Empowerment in a Domestic Violence Housing Organization

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Abstract

The purpose of community-based domestic violence crisis housing programs (e.g., shelters) is to provide a safe setting that promotes empowerment for survivors of intimate partner violence. For staff to reach this aim, the program must have formal structures and processes in place to support such efforts. This study explored how low-barrier and voluntary service policies influenced staff practices and survivor empowerment. Low-barrier policies require that programs remove barriers that prevent survivors, particularly those who have mental health concerns and/or addictions, from being able to access services. A voluntary service policy states that survivors have the right to choose which services, if any, they would like to engage in during their stay at the program. Survivors’ ability to stay at the housing program is not contingent on their participation in program services. This exploratory-sequential (QUAL→ quan) mixed-method study examined how low-barrier and voluntary service policies influenced staff behavior and how these behaviors then related to survivor empowerment. Qualitative results revealed that low-barrier and voluntary service were guided by cultural values of justice and access, encouraged survivor-centered practices among staff, and were believed to promote survivor autonomy. Quantitative results suggested that when survivors perceived they had a choice to engage in program services or meet with an advocate, their empowerment increased. This study has implications for domestic violence organizational practice and provides evidence about the contextual factors that support individual empowerment.

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