Rebuilding lives after intimate partner violence in Aotearoa: women’s experiences ten or more years after leaving
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My research focused on five women in Aotearoa naming and defining their experiences ten or more years after leaving an intimate partner violence relationship. An increasing amount of literature has been published reporting the prevalence of intimate partner violence among women in our society, including surveys documenting devastating short and long-term health effects. However, little has been published about the long-term experiences of women who have survived such abuse. I was interested in making more visible the experiences of long-term survivors of intimate partner violence. I wondered what the challenges and legacies from experiences of intimate partner violence are and what contributes to women rebuilding their lives after intimate partner violence. In this research utilised a participatory action research approach informed by a critical feminist theoretical perspective. I selected two data collection methods, individual interviews followed by a focus group interview bringing the participants together. The findings identified nineteen themes emerging from the individual and focus group interviews. Some expressed the long-term challenges and legacies of intimate partner violence, such as feelings of powerlessness, guilt and shame and feeling silenced. Others reflected ways women rebuilt their lives, such as empowerment, resilience, courage and the importance of education and meaningful work. Interpreting the findings, empowerment was often juxtaposed with powerlessness, living side by side within the inner world of the long-term survivor of intimate partner violence in equal tension. This study affirms that challenges and legacies from intimate partner violence continue to affect women many years after leaving violence. Despite these challenges and legacies, women work very hard to rebuild their lives, care for their children and attain autonomy, independence and control of their lives. Women spent time and energy to recover ‘well enough’ from such violence, in order to lead a productive and functioning life.