Research Methods in Social Work and Domestic Abuse

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Introduction

Research within Social work is a methodical and attentive means of gathering evidence to validate any areas of ambiguity which require further investigation into any social group (Blaxter et al 1996 cited in Carey 2009) The purpose of such research Is to affirm, or develop on current knowledge (Bryman 2008). Research is defined as an orderly way of planning and processing the appropriate questions to seek answers, (Miles and Huberman 1994).This view, however, differs slightly by Silverman ( 2001) where he talks of research as being the critical objective of seeking answers to a specific issue. Creswell (2009) talks about the need for the researcher to have a research plan, to include proposals of inquiry and ways in which the data will be collated. He further states that the planning of such data collection should be reflected by the specific nature of the enquiry.

To seek accurate and viable information Strauss (1990), states that research project should be viewed holistically to include the background and any prior findings to previous studies. To adopt an effective research, the correct method should be employed following a well-constructed and investigative questioning method, adhering to ethical considerations for both researcher and participants (Miles and Huberman 1994) The two main methods of research that are utilised mostly, are the Qualitative and quantitative methods. The chosen method of enquiry will be dependent upon the specific issue, the client group, and the ethical issues which may need to be considered. (Bryman 2008). Often research may warrant both descriptive and numerical data, and this warrants the uses of both methods. This method or line of enquiry would utilise a mixed method approach.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative data is the collection of information, which may involve client participation, and personal individual experiences captured in natural settings (Silverman 2001). The means of capturing such data may be through observation or interviews for example. Although this methods authenticity can be described as accurate, it, however, falls short in repetitiveness, this creates an issue when the researcher is seeking results to be produced in a similar pattern.

This form of research would require the researcher to become part of the very context which he/she wishes to study enabling the researcher to view from the participants point of view. (Open University Press 2005)

This method of research is often laborious, and prolonged. The researcher would need to be part of the research group, and be able to gain the participants authentic views. The information can be said to be sought evidently or concealed, which could lead to ethical issues of deception. To remain covert may be an advantage and necessary where there are socially sensitive groups such as the criminal justice system where the researcher may be offered some safety in anonymity. (Silverman 2001)

Qualitative research could be said to be subjective and criticised for again for ethical reasons, due to evidence being tarnished, and affected by the researcher’s personals beliefs. This method however, has the means to unearth otherwise impossible to gain information, through extraction and open-ended questioning methods, this can be said to be almost impossible to gain using the quantitative method of research. Supporters of this method would employ this reason to suggest that their findings are unique, descriptive and detailed. (Weisburd et al. 2005)

Critiques of this method would argue, however, that the Qualitative research method often lacks representation of the wider population. As mentioned previously, it is very context specific and as such, any findings can never be used as a general interpretation. Such research methods, are also argued to be very expensive and would mean the interpretation of data, observations and time, can all be costly. Despite the criticisms of the qualitative research method, this method of enquiry could be said to be adaptable, fluid and not governed by a statistical information gathering criteria.

Creswell (2009) states that the research process should be a clear process and that the participant, should always know that they are part of the research. Thorough research requires a transparent process. He further states that the ethically correct way to inform of any research should be publicly accounted for. This accountability should also refer to the paradigm, and methodology of how the data was collated. Researchers who oppose this methodology state that they find this method unethical due to the variation in the measurement of information, and limitations in validity (Spradeley 1980). It is further cited that the reliability and robustness of qualitative methods are often questionable since the research questioning may be misinterpreted. (Spradeley 1980) Silverman (2001) however, argues in defence of the qualitative method of research, and states that this method is not a substandard means of enquiry, but a method which harnesses the participation of the reader into the suggested findings. Spadeley (1980) talks of how the biggest challenge for a qualitative researcher is to avoid any personal curiosity into the study.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative research methods are, geared towards achieving results and use a systematic and logical approach to achieve these, the focus being validity and testing of the results (Weisburd et al 2005). Quantitative research methods focus on the idea that behaviours in humans may be measured based on social facts and that these may be explored using designs that are characterised by the assumption that human behaviour can be measured, and logical explanations provided as such. (Miles and Huberman 1994)

While qualitative Research focuses on textual data, Quantitative research pays attention to quantifying of the collected data (Bryman 2008).

Statistical gathering of information formulated into digestible forms such as graphs or tables is the way in which one would often present the results of quantitative research (Silverman 2001). It is further suggested that quantitative research will often be constructed through methods such as:

  • Official statistics
  • Random samples
  • Measured variables
  • Experiments
  • Previously collected data
  • 'Structured' observation

Spradley (1980) talks of the two key components that must prevail to embark on any research. The philosophy behind the research and the methodology of obtaining the data. If any research and findings are to be appreciated, the two elements should be acknowledged.

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Mixed Methods

A mixture of qualitative methods and quantitative methods is where the term mixed methods stem from. Creswell (2009) states that this form of methodology may provide the best outcome. It gives the opportunity to utilise both descriptive evidence as well as numerical data. Although some authorities may feel that numerical data is of more merit for their agencies, such as the police and commissioning services. Some critiques state that such data lacks the soundness, validity and depth in reaching reliable evidence, often resulting in gaps for future credible service provision. What is also lacking in such information is the means, by which data was gathered, the internal and external factors that may have impacted on the results, and the generalisation of such research (Strauss 1990). He further states that often the transference of numerical data to any form of descriptive explanation may lose credibility, reliability and become far too generalised. The argument for using such methods are that numerical data which supports any findings are more persuasive and powerful than descriptive findings for some readers due to the visual numerical presentation of such. Miles and Huberman (1994) state that qualitative research often lacks the decision-making process and it falls short of descriptive analysis, this may lead to the unreliability of the study findings.

The Feminist Approach

This approach pays attention to women and their rights. This approach considers women’s views, ideas and experiences and any struggles which come with being a woman. This method concentrates on a female representation as opposed to male participation (Bryman 2008). When research is a holistic representation of society, and viewed through a social work lens, it is apparent that this methodology falls short in a true representation of all. Social work is concerned with fairness and equality for all, and as such this method would not be constructive or indeed objective. Although this method may be warranted to ascertain a female perspective in some research proposals, it however falls short in offering a male perspective in the findings. The sole use of this method in any research without any other method would not be justified in social work, although could support and be utilised in part.

Definitions of Domestic Violence

It is almost an impossible task to find one generalised description of the term domestic abuse (Gibson 1996). It appears that services would seek to define the term based on their own service agendas.

Chez (1994, cited in Gibson-Howell, 1996), states that a service focussing on the sole support for female victims, will often describe domestic abuse as subjecting a female to physical or emotional behaviours, and talks of repeated patterns of forceful coercive relationships. Some of the more commonly found themes that are often found when services talk of domestic abuse sometimes vary, but all speak of some type of control to include: power, persuasion and control (Smith 1994). It appears that The UK government (2005) have employed a more comprehensive account of domestic abuse and one that encompasses all the depictions of domestic abuse, stating any psychological, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse all constitute domestic abuse. They make further reference to gender or sexuality having no bearing on the narrative of abuse. The government website makes further reference to the statistics of abuse which portray that it is mostly women who are the victims of abuse. Domestic abuse is a complex phenomenon and one that needs to incorporate and be individualistic in some respect, paying heed to cultural and sexual diversities. This in turn would further add complications to the intervention methods that may be employed in dealing with each case based on its own merits. This literature review will explore some aspects associated with domestic abuse and hope to surmise that there are many accountability factors when we talk about this subject and that it must be approached with an open mind. It will be researched through a social work lens as well as a historical lens to ascertain the perceived acceptance of domestic abuse in contemporary society.

Historical Abuse

Domestic abuse against women dating back to the nineteenth century was a discussion of much debate (Danis 2003). The first laws that pertained to marriage were, in fact, supportive of hitting ones’ wife. The laws further spoke of the absolute right of the husband over his wife, and the legislation was structured accordingly. This superiority spoke of obedience to the husband and deviance from this came with a retribution. (Tuerkheimer 2004) The turn into the new century, allowed for some improvements in such laws being softened to discourage violence against ones’ wife. The victims may not have had any relief in knowing so, as no victim support or punishment was imposed. What had emerged instead was the trend that paved the way for private family life matters (Turekheimer 2004)

It was later in the 1960s that the feminist movement gave rise to the interest in women’s welfare and paved the way for more equal rights. and condemned the violence against women. With little funds, women's refuge’s and support centres were born. They further fought for the chastisement of offenders, and education for professionals. (Danis 2003).

Some forty years on, the public interest in domestic abuse and the impact this imparts on the whole family has grown immensely. Government funding and continuous professional training in this topic are ever emerging. Today, society recognises that domestic abuse is not only in the form of physical abuse, but also emotional, sexual, and financial. This further includes partners of the same sex and additionally is not gender specific. Cruz (2003) speaks of the fact that husbands are equally considered victims. Domestic Abuse Affecting Females

The limitations in support for male victims across the UK and Scotland, would be indicative of the fact that most victims of domestic abuse are women, as supported by Simmerman (2002). Wha-soon (1994) further supports this when he states that women suffering domestic abuse suffer long standing psychological trauma It has been suggested that to seek respite from this trauma, women very often chose to live under financially demanding conditions such as hostels or refuge’s to be free of the perpetrator (Brown and Kenneym 1996). Starr (2001), suggests that women who are responsible for the parenting of their children are often affected in providing good enough care to their children, due to the strains of trying to compose their own, mental and physical wellbeing. Further reference is made to the correlation between women abused and maltreatment of their own children by themselves Isaac (1997).

The pitiful realisation of the impact of domestic abuse on children becomes apparent where it is suggested that over ninety percent of children in such homes are affected. Hewitt (2002). This Leads to low self-esteem, isolation amongst peers, and confidence. Although Children may become covert within their childhood, it may be, in later life, they too become abusers. Wha-soon (1994) further supports this theory when he states that witnessing violence, results in a pattern of the same.

Time for Intervention

Preventing violence, protecting victims, and seeking justice for the victims, are the three intervention methods employed when it comes to domestic abuse (Press wire 1998). The prevention of abuse may usually take the form of educational resources and as such informs both victim and potential perpetrators of how to avoid this. Protection would seek to provide respite services for example or support services for the victim, and Justice would suggest that the perpetrator is punished. The measuring of such intervention, however, seems arduous to capture.

Kelly (2004) talks of the fact that this could further be enhanced if the consideration of the wider family was to be addressed, looking at all components and aspects, such as relationship dynamics and support networks. It is anticipated that considering these factors could lead to a more comprehensive justice system for the victim and that the protective factors are increased due to the deeper knowledge of the family systems. There are gaps in the research in domestic abuse however and it seems that, a solution for one cultural background, may in fact be a cause for concern in another. An example of which could be extended family members. This will be discussed in the preceding section.

It appears that the research on domestic abuse is vast however falls short in any research based on domestic abuse within the South Asian communities. Intervention methods talk of the consideration of the extended family which are vastly apparent within these communities, however, it does not make any mention of the cultural, and language barriers that may prevail, and the silent victims that fall into this category as a result. Extended families so far as the Asian communities are concerned, are often the reasons that abuse may occur. This stems from expectations that the extended members of the family must also be looked after, and if there are any shortcomings in this, then the wife is usually to blame (Zara 2012). An exchange method of information sharing, using open ended questions with women of this background would have undoubtedly benefitted the research into domestic abuse. A Qualitative approach would have best served this approach as due to the uniqueness of this server group, the true essence of their culture would need to be captured (Asian pages 1998). It seems that Ethical factors are a reason that policy makers and practitioners have avoided this sensitive area of research, however, the impact of domestic abuse within south Asian families on women and children is immense (Asian pages 1998). Religious factors, community conformity, and cultural beliefs all impact f on the delivery of intervention methods, but also impact the partnership working between such communities and authorities where authorities may fear that they are crossing ethical boundaries as well as a breakdown of community cohesion, by interfering. Women of such backgrounds, view their partners as their honour and as such, view their own position within the community as being connected to their marital status (Thiara and Gill 2010). The views and ideas that these women hold often stem from their own mothers and the cross-boarder marriages, which bring these women into the UK, often lead infiltration of such beliefs into their own parenting. An excerpt from an interviewee young bride aged 18, in Pakistan is an example of the expectations: “My mother is very obedient; she never says no to my father. She leaves home for work at 8 am and only returns at midnight. Even if she is tired, she does everything to make him happy; she runs our home and cooks whatever he wishes. All the men in our village beat their wives, it is a norm” (Zara 2012).

Ethnic minority communities impart many other issues when it comes to domestic abuse. Dasgupta (2000) and Choudry (1996) state that as honour and respect and self-worth play a huge part in the south Asian community, many perpetrators use these tactics as a method of control. Often perpetrators will not only seek to demand care for themselves, but also the consideration of their families also needs to take place. This undoubtedly influences the children and the ability to cater for them (Dasgupta and Warrier 1996) Choudry (1996) talks about the fact that South Asian women face rejection and hostility from the wider communities as result of leaving such relationships. A Scottish study in the Asian community concluded that interference from wider agencies into private family matters was not appreciated and any disputes would be resolved internally (McNeil et al 2004)

Although there has been some legal reform over the years when it comes to domestic abuse, it is still argued that the male dominance within south Asian communities still prevails when it comes to justification of abuse (Siegel 1996). The pressures of maintaining the family honour and children together lies with the women of the family (Hewitt 2002). This phenomenon as reported by Zara (2012), seems to be prevailing from the cultural expectations from some of these communities historically, and may be difficult to overcome without causing alarm and overcoming many barriers in the process.

Conclusion

Although there appears to be much accessible literature on domestic abuse, there is however, very limited literature on ethnic minority communities and the added issues that need to be considered when addressing abuse. As mentioned previously, Qualitative research accessing women's perspectives of their own perceptions of abuse, and the way in which they survived would go a long way in serving the knowledge to add to the intervention methods employed. The data of the qualitative research should be employed and adapted to add to new policies and laws which woulkd need to be reformed to address and implement these findings maintaining the dignity, privacy and safety of any willing participant.

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