Mediator and Survivor Perspectives on Screening for Intimate Partner Abuse

Published date01 March 2014
Date01 March 2014
Mediator and Survivor Perspectives on Screening for
Intimate Partner Abuse
Shereen G. Bingham
Kerry L. Beldin
Laura Dendinger
is study illuminates how family mediators and domestic violence sur-
vivors in Nebraska perceive the process used to screen parents for inti-
mate partner abuse prior to parenting plan mediation. In-depth
interviews and a focus group discussion were conducted and qualita-
tively analyzed to compare the mediators’ and survivors’ perspectives and
suggest what the mediators might learn about screening from the stand-
point of the survivors. Both similarities and diff erences in perspective
emerged, with mediators less attentive than survivors to several concerns
that appear central to screening from the survivors’ standpoint. Implica-
tions for the screening practices of family mediators are discussed.
Mediation has grown rapidly since it was introduced to the American
legal landscape in the 1970s, and now is more prevalent than other
approaches to resolving family disputes (Emery, Sbarra, and Grover 2005;
Salem 2009). Some have even suggested that for most family law cases,
such as those involving child custody confl icts, mediation has become the
norm (Landrum 2011). Yet as the use of mediation for these cases has
expanded, with mediation now mandatory or sanctioned as an alternative
to litigation by statute or court rule in almost every state (Murphy and
Rubinson 2005), there is ongoing concern and debate about the circum-
stances under which this practice can be eff ective and appropriate with
families who have experienced intimate partner abuse (Landrum 2011; Ver
Steegh 2003).
C R Q, vol. 31, no. 3, Spring 2014 305
© Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21090
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
e term intimate partner abuse (IPA) is used in the literature for what
historically has been called domestic violence. Legal defi nitions and crim-
inal charges related to IPA vary by location but typically relate to physical
and sexual abuse (Healey, Smith, with O’Sullivan 1998). From decades of
work with IPA survivors and from research, we know that IPA encom-
passes more than acts that may lead to physical injury—controlling and
abusive behaviors that tend to accompany them, such as economic
and emotional abuse and intimidation (Pence and Paymar 1993). Stark
(2007) suggests that by focusing on physical abuse, we miss the context of
abuse experiences—coercive control that frames violence and may be so
limiting to a victim’s rights and activities that physical or sexual abuse may
seldom be necessary. Other researchers contend that not all IPA involves
coercive control and diff erentiate “coercive controlling” violence from
other categories, including “situational couple violence” (which arises as
interpersonal confl icts escalate), “separation-instigated violence” (which
occurs at the time of separation), and “violent resistance” (a reaction to
coercive controlling violence) (Kelly and Johnson 2008, 478–79).  is
work suggests that parents experiencing diff erent forms of IPA may have
divergent needs and should be treated accordingly by service providers
(Jaff e et al. 2008).
e literature refl ects a wide range in IPA prevalence within families
participating in mediation (Beck, Walsh, and Weston 2009). Studies have
found that depending on the types of abuse measured, IPA is present in the
relationships of at least a third (Beck and others 2009) and as many as
90 percent of parties participating in mediation to address custody and
parenting issues (Beck et al. 2011). With such likelihood that couples
entering mediation may have experienced IPA in some form, screening is
embraced as fundamental in identifying cases in which mediation would
likely be uncomfortable, ineff ective, or unsafe (Clemants and Gross 2007).
e limited research on IPA screening for family mediation has identi-
ed obstacles to eff ective screening, such as victims’ reluctance to disclose
abuse (Frederick 2008), disagreements about best screening practices (Beck
and others 2011), and insuffi cient training for mediators (Clemants and
Gross 2007). In light of these fi ndings, it appears that screening for IPA,
although widely viewed as crucial for family mediation, is a challenging
responsibility. However, despite the challenge, the experiences of media-
tors who conduct screening have seldom been given a voice in the litera-
ture. Even more important, IPA survivors have rarely had opportunities to
provide their perspective. To address these concerns, this study explores

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