Resilience and Growth Following Adversity

By Susan L. Miller, author of Journeys: Resilience and Growth for Survivors of Intimate Partner Abuse

More than one in three women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner or former partner in their lifetime. What goes on behind closed doors often remains a secret. Yet, spurred on by the courage and resilience exemplified by victims of gender-based violence and harassment in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, in addition to the national debate on gun control following yet another school shooting in Parkland, FL, survivors of intimate partner violence and abuse (IPV/A) foresee a platform for them too to join the conversation. #IPV

Fortunately, many abused women reach out for help when they face a crisis, such as securing shelter, obtaining help with legal issues, and connecting with victim service advocates. But often the very people and institutions turned to in a crisis, such as friends and family, the police, faith communities, and the courts, do not provide the assistance or emotional support needed. Abused women face issues similar to women speaking out in the #MeToo movement, such as victim-blaming, retaliation, and threats, yet the stigma of being abused by a loved one, rather than an employer, silences many victims. Many in our nation are demanding a new strategy for reducing gun violence, and this issue is relevant for IPV/A: women are at high risk for domestic homicide; every day, on average, three or more women are killed by their husbands or partners. Guns make situations far more dangerous, increasing homicide risk by 500% (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

Research shows that post-traumatic growth, resilience, and empowerment can flourish following adversity. My research with long-term survivors of IPV/A reveals that though trauma and recovery shaped their lives, victimization was not the center­piece of their identities. This issue of long-term survivorship merits serious attention. Although there is a lot of research on crisis and short-term needs, we know very little about how long-term survivors transform or incorporate their “victim” identities and lives while encountering what sociologists refer to as social structural constraints (such as poverty or lack of resources that may affect help-seeking behavior, as well as housing and employment options) and legal and criminal justice obstacles. The challenges abound even for those victims/survivors most likely to have a strong sense of personal efficacy, as well as access to a range of emotional and instrumental support from serv­ice providers, family, and friends. Moving from being controlled by an abu­sive partner or ex-partner toward a life where one is in control is an accom­plishment from which other abused women can learn and find inspiration.

As apparent in the political machinations of the current political administration where former White House staffer Rob Porter left amidst accusations of domestic violence by two ex-wives, and the exposure of pervasive abuse by the #MeToo movement, our culture still tolerates misogyny, offering the excuse that “boys will be boys” and claiming that women are just too sensitive, with the result that bullies and abusers often enjoy impunity. Measures to prevent and intervene in abusive situations and to sustain women after they leave are vital for addressing gender-based violence. In joining the conversation, survivors of IPV/A help inform victim-centered policies to guide our efforts of empowerment for all victims/survivors. Our collective expectations to live in a civil and just society mandate greater attention to changing gendered social norms and the unequal distribution of power.

Susan L. Miller is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. She is the author of After the Crime: The Power of Restorative Justice Dialogues Between Victims and Violent Offenders, and Victims as Offenders: The Paradox of Women’s Violence in Relationships. 

The Dark Side of Technology and Separation/Divorce Violence Against Women: Image-Based Sexual Abuse

By Walter S. DeKeseredy, co-author of Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women

Ample scientific evidence supports the claim that technology is routinely used to commit a variety of crimes, such as the distribution of child pornography. Yet, until recently the bulk of the research on the “dark side” of new technologies either ignored or overlooked the fact that the Internet is now a tool used by many men to seriously harm the women who leave them or who want to leave them.

This is one of the key reasons why Molly Dragiewicz, Martin D. Schwartz and I wrote Abusive Endings. Image-based sexual abuse is one of a number of new electronic means of inflicting pain that we devote considerable attention to. Often referred to as revenge porn, there is a huge worldwide audience for such imagery. Regardless of which term or definition one prefers, the pictures and videos are typically made by men with the consent of the women they were intimately involved with, but then distributed online without their consent following women’s termination of a relationship.

Few studies to date have actually measured the extent of image-based sexual abuse, but some researchers estimate that there are now more than 3,000 online sites and the bulk of perpetrators who post on them are male ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends, and ex-lovers.

The harm-done by image-based sexual abuse is often irreparable as demonstrated by Holly Jacobs’ experiences. She is the founder of the advocacy group End Revenge Porn and her boyfriend hacked into her Facebook profile and posted sexually explicit images for relatives and friends to see prior to disseminating more material through revenge porn sites and e-mailing material to her employers. Revenge porn sites were then used by groups of men to harass and abuse her. Consequently, she had to legally change her name, stop going to academic conferences, change jobs and her phone number, and endure other major traumatic hardships.

This electronic type of separation/divorce violence will likely get worse. There is no particular reason to believe that men are reducing their use of sexist, racist, homophobic comments, or verbal attacks. Certainly, this is nothing new. For years, men have being making these remarks in public places. The difference is that today that the same comments, together with hurtful sexual imagery, can gain a wider audience than a few men who happen to be present. Thousands of people can view pictures that were posted without men’s ex-partners’ consent and they will stay on the Internet forever. With the constant stream of new technologies, it is easy for gender-related offenses inflicted by some new invention to take place.

There is, however, some good news. At the time of writing this blog, 36 states have revenge porn laws. Of those that do not, many respond to image-based sexual abuse through other criminal statutes such as laws forbidding harassment, extortion, and stalking. The creation of laws targeting image-based sexual abuse may serve as a powerful deterrent and thus reduce much pain and suffering.

Walter S. DeKeseredy is Anna Deane Carlson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences, Director of the Research Center on Violence, and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at West Virginia University. In addition to being the co-author of Abusive Endings with Molly Dragiewicz and Martin D. Schwartz, he is also co-author of Dangerous Exits: Escaping Abusive Relationships in Rural America with Martin D. Schwartz. Walter has received major awards from divisions of the American Society of Criminology for his work on violence against women.

When Leaving is Not Enough

By Molly Dragiewicz, co-author of Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women

This guest post is published in advance of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Montreal, Quebec from November 10 – 13 and in advance of American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans from November 16 – 19. #NWSA2016 #ASC2016 #Election2016 

Recent developments in the U.S. election have turned up the volume on public discussions of violence against women. We have observed the ugly backlash that attends women’s efforts to participate in public life, the coded language used to attack women who dare advocate for social justice, and the reversion to violence and threats when constant harassment and abuse fail to silence women. These public discussions mirror private violence. 

DeKeseredy-AbusiveEndingsDisparate cultural and political histories have shaped the contemporary re-emergence of movements to end violence against women across the globe, but there has been an undeniable shift in the visibility of violence against women. However, awareness is only the first step in ending violence and abuse. Research on gender and violence has developed at a remarkable pace since the 1970s. While the most egregious examples of victim blaming have receded in scholarly circles, and most people you stopped on the street would probably say they oppose domestic violence, many misunderstandings about its nature and dynamics persist.

One of the most pernicious misconceptions about woman abuse is that it ends when the couple breaks up. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, such as reported breaches of domestic violence orders by former partners, murders of women and children in the context of child custody exchange and visitation, and high profile stalking cases, far too many scholars, practitioners, and regular folks assume that separation and divorce can cure violence against women. Implicit in this belief are the stereotypes we thought we’d buried: it takes two to tango; she was asking for it; she made me do it. Structural failures to effectively respond to domestic violence post-separation stem in large part from the widespread failure to address the ugly truths of domestic violence: that is not an accident or miscommunication or one-off, but a pattern of intentional behavior designed to compel submission to domination. Violence often escalates at separation for just this reason: a partner who leaves is refusing to submit, and a new level of violence is required to bring her back under control. Kids often become just another weapon in this battle, and systems such as the family courts can make the situation more dangerous when they fail to account for histories of violence.

These are just some of the reasons Walter S. DeKeseredy, Martin D. Schwartz and I wrote Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women. We present the significant international research on what happens when women try to leave abusive relationships. We know quite a lot. We hope this book will help move popular and professional discourse to take the next step on from awareness, recognizing the complexity of woman abuse as well as how it changes across the span of relationships.

Molly DragiewiczDragiewicz.Molly-photo is Associate Professor in Crime and Justice Research Centre in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. She is the author of Equality With a Vengeance and editor of Global Human Trafficking: Critical Issues and Contexts. You can find her blog at

Moral Wages wins ASA’s 2015 Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award


Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling is the winner of the 2015 Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award, given by the Social Psychology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Kenneth Kolb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University.
Kenneth Kolb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University.

Based upon a year of fieldwork, Kenneth Kolb’s book explores the world of domestic violence advocacy work. How are victim advocates and counselors emotionally compensated for the demanding nature of their jobs, and furthermore, how do outside factors affect these “moral wages”? Moral Wages documents the influence of government bureaucracy and waning resources upon these emotional benefits, as well as the role of gender inequality even in the predominantly female field of victim advocacy.

This prize will be awarded at the 2015 ASA Meeting, which will be held this summer. Our congratulations to Kenneth Kolb!

The Hidden Costs of Going to Court

by Ken Kolb

“I want a restraining order against him right now.”

The first time I heard a client say this during my research, I was surprised by the response she received. Popular stereotypes depict victim advocates and counselors as over-zealous “man-haters” who rush their clients to call the cops or file legal complaints; yet, the staff member I observed that day did the exact opposite.  Instead, she encouraged her client to “go slow” before making a final decision. After more than a year of fieldwork inside an agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, I came to learn that advocates and counselors see courtrooms with a much wider degree of skepticism than most people realize.

There are many reasons why staff members in these kinds of agencies are hesitant to work with the criminal justice system; one of which is directly tied to the economic insecurity of many of their clients. For victims who work at hourly jobs, taking time off to spend in court can mean taking a pay cut, or worse. Low paying jobs seldom offer employees the flexibility to leave work on a moment’s notice. As a result, even for those with pro bono legal representation, going to court can be an uncertain proposition. Is a restraining order worth getting fired over?

In summary, although domestic violence and sexual assault are rooted in gender inequality, their effects are often exacerbated by economic inequality. For those who don’t have flexible work arrangements, the court system can be a costly venture. Should staff members encourage their clients to accept these risks in the hopes of a successful verdict? This is just one of the many dilemmas that victim advocates and counselors face on a daily basis.


Kenneth Kolb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University and author of Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling.