Space and safety : how domestic violence shelters impact resident experiences and well-being
Keiser, Margaret Yvonne
May 20, 2020
Department or Program
I examine how women staying in a domestic violence shelter attach meaning to domestic violence shelter spaces, and how this contributes to their well-being, as well as how domestic violence shelter spaces influence the physical, social, and emotional experiences of residents during their time in the shelter. In the United States, and worldwide, domestic violence remains an issue that is in need of more attention and research. Shelters can offer refuge from the physical, sexual, economic, and psychological abuse victims of domestic violence often experience. Although shelters can provide relief in times of crisis, the environment of shelters can be a difficult adjustment. To frame my project, I use McDowell (1999)’s theory of feminist geographies and Zerubavel (1991)’s boundary making theory. Using qualitative interviews and an analysis of the shelter space, I studied both domestic violence shelter residents and domestic violence advocates to study how spaces matter for shelter experiences and resident well-being. I found that living in a shelter is a compensatory experience--residents gain many things, but it comes at the price of sacrificing something. I highlight findings related to safety, communal living and privacy, feelings of home and comfort, and empowerment and autonomy. My research found that domestic violence shelter spaces matter for shelter residents, and contributed to overall well-being of residents, despite some of the shortcomings of the shelter. My research adds to the literature on geography, shelters, and domestic violence. It highlights the voices of women familiar with domestic violence, and shows that spaces of all kinds should not be taken for granted.