Langley, Julia (2015) Young mothers’ experiences of relationship abuse: Personal stories and public narratives. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Domestic abuse has historically been defined and constructed as an adult issue. However, in recent years there has been increasing awareness that young people also experience abuse within their relationships that can have serious and long-term effects on their health and wellbeing. Research has revealed higher rates of abuse reported by younger women than by adult women (Barter et al, 2009) and young mothers in particular appear to be at significant risk of experiencing relationship abuse (Wood et al, 2011). However, there is a lack of empirical research that has explored young mothers’ experiences of abuse and, therefore, little is known about the ways in which they understand and make sense of relationship abuse and negotiate their mothering within an abusive relationship.
By focusing exclusively on mothers who became pregnant before they were 18, this research addresses this gap in knowledge and offers an original contribution to the evidence base. The primary aim of the research was to offer young mothers who experienced relationship abuse an opportunity to tell their stories. Underpinned by a feminist, social constructionist epistemology, the research adopted a narrative methodology and used semi-structured interviews to generate data. Participants were six young women who became pregnant before their eighteenth birthday and who had experienced relationship abuse in the last year; two were pregnant with their first child and four were already mothers. Narrative analysis of the data using The Listening Guide explored how participants constructed themselves and made sense of their relationships, paying particular attention to the ways in which personal stories reflected or contested available narratives about relationships, abuse, motherhood and teenage pregnancy.
The emerging stories offer an insight into how these young mothers negotiated limited and sometimes contradictory narratives in order to make sense of their experiences and tell their own story. Participants told stories about their relationships and stories about becoming and being a mother that were inextricably linked. Stories of relationships and abuse overwhelmingly reflected narratives of romantic love; narratives that place responsibility for relationships with women, perpetuate gender inequalities and normalise male control and abuse. Their stories of motherhood reflected currently available narratives of ‘good’ mothering and rejected dominant narratives about teenage motherhood that were inconsistent with being a good mother. The findings highlight the limited repertoire of narratives available to young mothers who have experienced relationship abuse and reveal the potentially constraining nature of dominant narratives. Recommendations are made for policy, practice and future research.

Final thesis - LANGLEY.pdf - Accepted Version
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