Family secrets and social silence: women with insecure immigration status and domestic abuse policy in Scotland

Conway, Elaine (2013) Family secrets and social silence: women with insecure immigration status and domestic abuse policy in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In recent decades, domestic abuse has been transformed from a private concern and personal tragedy into a key public issue across the globe. In the UK this has culminated in a contemporary policy focus on violence between intimate partners as one of a multitude of forms of violence against women. Consequently, much research has focused on the abuse of women in intimate relationships in attempts to understand the problem and formulate appropriate state responses to it. Feminist principles have guided much of this work, and both devolved and central UK governments accept the feminist analysis of the problem: domestic abuse is the result of perpetuating gender inequalities in the social, public realm. Public services such as health, education and social work, as well as the criminal justice system, seek to respond to the needs of women fleeing their abusive partners, and public money covers the cost of many Women’s Aid refuge places. However, some women’s immigration status precludes access to publicly funded services, and subsequently their options for support and ability to exit abusive relationships is constrained. Despite overt policy statements which recognise the universal nature of domestic abuse and the way in which it will affect very high proportions of women irrespective of their race, colour or creed, state support is therefore conditional.
The experiences of women who are prevented from automatically accessing public services because of their immigration status has become of increasing concern in the Scottish context since the dispersal of thousands of asylum seekers during the last decade, as well as the rising number of women entering the country on spousal visas. This study therefore examines experiences of help seeking and escape from abusive relationships from the perspective of this particular group of women. Of central concern is the process of problematisation: the way in which issues are transformed from private matters into public concerns, warranting state intervention and investment, and the way in which this transformative process shapes the policies which proceed from it. Therefore, the study investigates the problematisation of domestic abuse in Scotland; the avenues of support it offers as a result of this process; and how this very problematisation shapes women’s personal experiences of help-seeking and escape from abusive partners. First a comparative discourse analysis of documents from Scotland and New Zealand illustrates how different definitions of ‘the problem’ result in differentiated public responses; then, drawing on data collected during in-depth interviews with participants at policy level, workers in support services, and individual women themselves, women’s journeys through and away from abusive relationships, as well as the social and political contexts which shape them, are discussed. Two key themes emerge from this piece of research: the operation of silences within a policy context; and the way in which this is dominated by hierarchical values, systems and processes. The thesis concludes that there is scope for a practical application of the findings which could enrich policy understanding and output in Scotland, to the benefit of women who are, at present, one of the most marginalized groups in Scottish society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Domestic abuse, problem definition, immigration, policymaking
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Supervisor's Name: Mackenzie, Dr. Mhairi and Deeley, Dr. Susan
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr Ellie Conway
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4000
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2013 09:45
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2013 09:49

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