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- Author or Editor: Jo Neale x
This article explores the process of ‘identity erasure’ that is a feature of domestic violence and abuse. Data are taken from semi-structured narrative-style interviews with 14 women who had experienced abuse from a male partner.
I draw on Erving Goffman’s () work on ‘total institutions’. Goffman uses the term ‘mortification’ in describing the attacks on identity and self that occur in ‘total institutions’ such as psychiatric hospitals, prisons and concentration camps. These attacks take the form of: loss of contact with the outside world, ritual degradation, the removal of possessions, and lack of control. Their effect is to erase the inmate’s prior identity, and render them compliant.
For the women who participated in this study, their abusers attempted to achieve compliance by adopting many of the tactics that Goffman describes. Drawing on participants’ words, I discuss some of the behaviours adopted by their abusive partners: isolation from support networks, surveillance, deprivation of privacy, and dispossession. I argue that, for women, the home/abusive relationship becomes a total institution. Understanding the abusive household as a ‘total institution’ can help friends, family and professionals to more fully appreciate, and therefore provide women with more appropriate help to overcome, the barriers to leaving.
Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is recognised as a serious public health issue that detrimentally affects the lives of victims during, and after exiting, the relationship. For staff in overstretched criminal justice, health and social care agencies, high prevalence rates of DVA place a significant strain on the financial and emotional resources available to them. Drawing on Angie Ash’s (2013) concept of ‘cognitive masks’, and using data collected as part of a larger study, I examine the responses from agencies that frustrated women’s attempts to leave an abusive male partner. Fourteen women, recruited via three specialist support agencies in two English counties and my own personal networks, participated in semi-structured narrative style interviews. Findings suggest that practitioners sometimes ignore significant aspects of the case, thus rendering the situation more manageable – for themselves. For women, however, this can frustrate their attempts to exit the relationship and remain abuse-free.