Correlates of medical and legal help seeking among women reporting intimate partner violence

Erin E Duterte, Amy E Bonomi, Mary A Kernic, Melissa A Schiff, Robert S Thompson, Frederick P Rivara
Journal of Women's Health 2008, 17 (1): 85-95

OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) type, severity, and duration and abused women's use of medical and legal services.

METHODS: Participants were 1509 randomly sampled women from a large health plan who were interviewed by telephone to assess (1) self-reported lifetime exposure to IPV type (physical, sexual, and psychological), severity, and duration and (2) women's use of medical and legal services (civil protection orders).

RESULTS: Compared with women who experienced psychological abuse only, sexually abused women were 1.3 times as likely to seek medical care, and women exposed to physical IPV or sexual IPV were 3.2 times and 1.6 times as likely, respectively, to seek legal services. Rates of medical and legal help seeking increased with increasing abuse severity among physically abused women, and rates of legal help seeking increased with abuse severity among sexually and psychologically abused women. Longer duration of physical and sexual IPV was also found to be associated with increased legal help seeking.

CONCLUSIONS: Abused women who sought formal help were more likely to be exposed to physical or sexual IPV, severe psychological IPV, and severe and long-lasting physical and sexual IPV. Efforts should be considered to improve the healthcare and legal system's response to IPV.

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