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Domestic violence, safe space and vicarious abuse: inside a Pennsylvania Exchange and Visitation Center

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Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in the ‘safe space’ of an exchange and visitation center, this article examines center staffs’ experiences of vicarious abuse. Vicarious abuse refers to the emotional effects that occur when someone – other than the victim in the relationship – experiences or witnesses the coercively controlling tactics of a domestic violence abuser. This article examines the limitations of safe space that fails to consider the physical and emotional security needs of all who utilize the space. By tracing the fears of staff who interact with abusers, this article also frames domestic violence as a public safety concern with implications beyond the intimate. With recognition that staff experiences of vicarious abuse differ from the embodied experiences of victims in abusive relationships, this article applies a feminist geographic analytic to examine how the ‘safe space’ of an exchange and visitation center enables fear and normalizes vicarious abuse.
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Keywords: Child custody; coercive control; fear domestic violence; safe space; vicarious abuse

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Diversity & Community Studies, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, USA

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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