MOVE program helps women in domestic violence system rebuild from inside out

sbarr@newsobserver.comSeptember 8, 2013 

A new study shows encouraging results for a novel domestic violence intervention program created by two Wake County nonprofits to help women who are the victims of abuse.

InterAct, a domestic violence prevention agency, and SAFEchild, a child-abuse prevention agency, designed the program for a distinct group: women who are required by the courts or child protective services to use the agencies’ services, often because they have been identified as perpetrating violence while trying to fight back against their abusers.

The 13-week program of group sessions focuses on educating the women about domestic violence and parenting, and boosting their self-esteem. All of the women are the primary caretakers for children, and most are mothers.

“They feel judged and they feel belittled, not just by the relationship but by the system. One of our goals is to make them feel accepted and feel valued,” said Stacey Sullivan, a clinical supervisor at SAFEchild who coordinates the program. The program is called “Mothers Overcoming Violence through Education and Empowerment” or MOVE.

Sullivan and the other social workers who administer the program can see anecdotal evidence of its success in the lives of the women they work with. But researchers from UNC Chapel Hill who have studied the program for several years now have published positive findings about it as well.

They found that at the start of the program, 42 percent of participants still were involved with their abusive partner, but three months after completing the program, fewer than 20 percent remained with that partner.

The researchers also looked at how likely women were to have experienced or perpetrated intimate-partner violence before they started the program, compared with after they completed it.

Their findings include an 84 percent reduction in the likelihood women had experienced psychological abuse and 96.5 percent reduction in the likelihood they had experienced physical abuse. Similarly, they found an 89 percent reduction in the likelihood the women had perpetrated psychological abuse and a 94 percent reduction in the likelihood they had perpetrated physical abuse.

The results were published online in the journal “Research on Social Work Practice.”

Rebecca Macy, a professor in the UNC School of Social Work and the lead author of the study, said the further research was needed before the program could be promoted as an evidence-based practice. Ideally, the researchers would be able to compare women who participated in the program with those on a waiting list or who received typical services.

But she said the results are “promising” and point to the need for further studies. There is little research about what works best to help women who are required to receive services.

The researchers also are working to determine how children are affected by the program. MOVE provides child care for younger children and special classes for children ages 5 and older.

Sullivan and Macy both said that working to build women’s self-esteem is a critical part of the program’s success. Victims of domestic violence often are isolated from their family and friends and are bombarded with negative messages about their self-worth. The program seeks to show them those things aren’t true and that they aren’t alone in their experiences.

“I think this experience in MOVE really helps these women rediscover who they are,” Macy said.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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