Help-seeking behaviors and reasons for help seeking reported by a representative sample of women victims of intimate partner violence in New Zealand

Janet L Fanslow, Elizabeth M Robinson
Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2010, 25 (5): 929-51
Efforts to understand and support the process of help seeking by victims of intimate partner violence are of considerable urgency if we are to design systems and responses that are capable of actively and appropriately meeting the needs of victims. Using data from the New Zealand Violence Against Women Study, which drew from a representative general population sample of women aged 18 to 64 years, the authors report on the help-seeking behaviors of the women who had ever in their lifetime experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner (n = 956). More than 75% of respondents reported that they had told someone about the violence, indicating that it is not necessarily a "secret and private" problem. However, more than 40% of women indicated that no one had helped them. Informal sources of support (family and friends) were most frequently told about the violence but not all provided helpful responses. Fewer women told formal sources of help such as police, health care providers, and not all provided helpful responses. Women's reasons for seeking help and for leaving violent relationships were similar and included "could not endure more," being badly injured, fear or threat of death, and concern for children. Women's reasons for staying in or returning to violent relationships included perception of the violence as "normal/not serious," her emotional investment in the relationship, or staying for the sake of the children. The findings suggest that broader community outreach is required to ensure that family and friends are able to provide appropriate support for women in abusive relationships who are seeking help. Continued improvement in institutional responses is also required.

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