News Center for Human Rights, Gender & Migration

Multi-disciplinary WashU faculty shed light on the dynamics of intimate partner violence in refugee and migration contexts

Center Director, Kim Thuy Seelinger, left, moderates faculty panel on intimate partner violence in refugee contexts

The Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration recently launched its latest research report entitled, Intimate Partner Violence and Asylum in the Americas: Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru. This ground-breaking report is the first to simultaneously examine challenges in North and South American countries facing survivors of intimate partner violence who need to access refugee protection.

The center recently held an exclusive launch event featuring findings from the report and discussions with multi-disciplinary WashU faculty and experts on intimate partner violence.

Following an introduction from Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, Mary McKay, PhD, MSW, Center Director Kim Thuy Seelinger, PhD and Center Researcher Julia Uyttewaal presented key report findings followed by a panel discussion with Washington University faculty experts from four different disciplines. Their insights poignantly demonstrated the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration for addressing such complex issues as intimate partner violence and forced displacement.

What does intimate partner violence look like, and what does it mean to provide survivor-centered care? Tonya Edmond, PhD, MSW, associate dean for social work at the Brown School and Institute Faculty Scholar, highlighted that intimate partner violence (IPV) rarely manifests as solely physical or sexual harm. Rather, experts now recognize that IPV is first and foremost, a complex system of psychological coercion and control.

Associate Professor of Public Health and Institute Faculty Scholar, Lindsay Stark, DrPH, MPH, honed in on humanitarian settings where, contrary to popular belief, the most prevalent form of gender-based violence is intimate partner violence. Both panelists emphasized that being “survivor-centered” means understanding where, how and why this complex form of violence occurs – something that few asylum systems seem to practice when presented with a survivor in need of refugee protection.

Tabea Linhard, PhD and Professor Katie Meyer tied the discussion to the Americas region. Dr. Linhard’s humanist studies shed light on the realities of migration in many parts of Latin America: not only might a woman escape intimate partner violence at home, but she may be forced to exchange sex for safe passage or food when crossing international borders. Professor Meyer, who practices immigration law in the U.S., discussed the legal context from this side of the border and its effect on IPV survivors applying for asylum. While many parts of the world recognize gender-based persecution as a qualifying basis for refugee protection, U.S. policy on this issue has backtracked in recent years, particularly with the U.S. Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B-.

The legal road to asylum – not to mention the pathways to trauma recovery – remain long and challenging for IPV survivors, both in the U.S. and in many parts of the Americas.