I decided to investigate social network analyses as they relate to violence in intimate situations. These crimes have serious implications on the health and well-being of victims suffering from intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual assault. By understanding the social networks of abused women (Katerndahl paper) and sexual assault victims (Dworkin paper), we’ll have a better understanding of the type of social support these victims are receiving as well as how to intervene and provide appropriate resources.

Katerndahl, D., Burge, S., Ferrer, R., Becho, J., & Wood, R. (2013). Differences in Social Network Structure and Support Among Women in Violent Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(9), 1948–1964. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260512469103

The purpose of this study was to compare the size, structure, and composition of the social networks of women in abusive relationships with those of a matched cohort of nonabused women. The research question was what is the network size, structure and composition of social networks of women in violent relationships compared to women not in violent relationships?

Data were collected from adult women who reported abuse within the prior month from six primary care clinics in San Antonio, Texas. A demographically matched comparison group of women in nonabusive relationships were the controls. Women were given a brief conflict tactic scale to report abuse. Through a screening process selecting women that were deemed low risk for violence escalation were able to enroll in the study. Further information was collected through a daily survey for 12 weeks.

Social network membership was discovered through two questions, “Who are the people with whom you discuss matters important to you?” and “Who are the people you really enjoy socializing with?” Women were also asked to rate the strength of emotional support given and received by each of the people they identified from the agent generating questions. So, the nodes were the women and their self-identified people from the two questions. The links are the emotional support ratings.

Authors measured indegree, outdegree, betweenness, eigenvector centrality, density, reach efficiency (number of members ego can currently reach via support within two steps divided by the connectedness of the other members),  and overall egonet efficiency (effective size divided by the number of others in the egonet).

Overall, social networks of women in violent relationships were small and offered less support than those of women who were not in violent relationships. Figure 1 visually shows the differences in structure and support in two representative examples involving the same number of agents. The women in abusive relationships were smaller in size, but more efficient in their ability to reach the members in their networks. Women in abusive relationships had higher measures of centrality, suggesting that they were more critical in holding their networks together. However, these abused women also had fewer social contacts and provided more support than they received with fewer reciprocal ties. Authors were able to conclude that resources could be made available through these networks as these networks demonstrate weak ties and structural holes.

The authors explained that SNA produces statistics that yield information about connectedness, distance, groupings, and distributions of networks as well as individual subject information about their position in the network. Using SNA, the authors were able to find that women in abusive relationships were surprisingly more central to the networks indicating that these women may seek to minimize contact among the members of their network, perhaps out of embarrassment or shame. Knowing this information, women could be provided resources through the weak ties of more distant contacts.

Dworkin, E. R., Pittenger, S. L., & Allen, N. E. (2016). Disclosing Sexual Assault Within Social Networks: A Mixed-Method Investigation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 57(1–2), 216–228. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12033

The research questions of this study are as follows: What is the nature of the survivors’ utilization of their social networks for assistance? Who do survivors disclose their assault to within their informal social networks? What are the complex reasons why survivors make these decisions? Do characteristics of survivors, their networks, and informal respondents matter in sexual assault disclosure decisions?

Data were collected from a survey assessing perceived social support, identify people with whom the respondent discussed important matters, survivor characteristics, characteristics of members in the network, and sexual experiences. Once the surveys were completed, participants who endorsed any items on the sexual experiences were recruited for interviews. Interviews were used to collect qualitative information on violence-related topics.

College students (all over the age of 18) were recruited through a psychology department participant pool. Students received course credit for participating in a 50-minute online survey. Of 790 survey respondents, 206 reported sexual assault since age 14.

Nodes were the college students and individuals that the college students reported discussing important matters with. The edges were the links regarding social support and interactions between the nodes.

Authors found that characteristics of survivors, their social networks, and members of these networks were associated with disclosure decisions. Survivors were more likely to tell people who had higher degree centrality, demonstrating that social support was associated with network interconnectivity. They also identified that survivors tended to disclose to a smaller proportion of their network when many network members had relationships with each other or when the network had more subgroups. The figure below demonstrates examples of an association network structure with proportion of network receiving disclosure.

SNA methods made it possible to understand the structure of sexual assault victims’ networks. The authors found that survivors tended to disclose in smaller proportions of their network, suggesting that networks with multiple density-connected cliques most strongly discourage disclosure. These results can aid in help-seeking efforts by considering the social contexts of a survivor’s network.

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