Beyond Coping: Survivors’ Strategies in Response to Domestic Violence
Domestic violence continues to be a significant obstacle to global health and well-being, particularly for women. In recent decades, Nepali women’s human rights advocacy has resulted in important rulings and policies related to domestic violence. The present study sought to understand the perspectives of service providers in Pokhara, Nepal on strategies used by survivors in response to domestic violence. Snowball sampling was used to recruit service providers in government offices and NGOs in Pokhara, Nepal, who addressed domestic violence in the course of their work. Fifteen interviews and 7 focus groups were conducted, including 73 professionals representing upper management and field staff in organizations that were diverse in terms of organization size, geographic reach, and primary target group. Interviews were conducted in Nepali language, with support from a Nepali research assistant to bridge gaps in understanding. Data analysis was carried out using standard practices in the analysis of qualitative data, such as multiple readings, coding, categorizing, and the use of memos and diagrams to find patterns within the data. Analysis revealed an array of strategies used by survivors to address domestic violence. Given the central role that the family plays to connect women to important social, economic, and political resources and rights in Nepal, survivors sought to bolster resources in each of these areas. For example, survivors sought to bolster social resources both within the family and wider community by building credibility through demonstrations of trustworthiness; strengthening relationships outside of the family through participation in community activities; and help-seeking from non-abusive members of the household, extended family, community members, and organizations. They sought to shore up economic resources through pursuit of education, livelihood activities, and seeking employment. Finally, survivors sought to strengthen their own political standing by obtaining citizenship cards, marriage certificates, birth certificates for their children, and property rights; gathering evidence of abuse; and seeking legal counsel and support from government offices. Such strategies, often used in tandem, could open spaces to increase survivor options and negotiating power, whether or not they ultimately separated from those who had used violence against them. However, there were times when survivor strategies opened some spaces for negotiation while foreclosing others. By demonstrating the creative and complex ways that survivors carved out greater spaces of agency for themselves, these findings move discussions of survivor agency beyond discrete categories of coping, help-seeking, and separation. They also demonstrate the crucial roles played by family, community members, and organizations to support survivors to live without violence.