Formal and informal help-seeking associated with women's and men's experiences of intimate partner violence in Canada

Donna L Ansara, Michelle J Hindin
Social Science & Medicine 2010, 70 (7): 1011-8
While numerous studies have documented the prevalence, correlates, and consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV); most of this research has used a criminal justice framework that has focused on acts of physical violence. However, critics argue that this narrow conceptualization of IPV belies the heterogeneity in this experience with respect to the nature of coercive control in the relationship. Moreover, they contend that the different types of abusive and controlling relationships not only have a different etiology, health consequences, and help-seeking characteristics, they also have a different relationship by gender. This study examined the extent to which different patterns of violence, abuse, and control were differentially associated with formal and informal help-seeking in a national Canadian sample. Data from the 2004 General Social Survey were analyzed, which included 696 women and 471 men who reported physical or sexual violence by a current or ex-spouse or common-law partner. The most commonly reported formal sources for women and men were health professionals (i.e., doctors, nurses, counselors, psychologists) and the police. For women, informal sources (i.e., family, friends, neighbors) were commonly reported across all IPV subgroups. However, the importance of almost all of the formal sources (e.g., health professionals, police, lawyers, shelters, crisis centers) increased as the severity of the violence and control increased. Shelters and crisis centers were also reported by a notable proportion of women who experienced the most severe pattern of violence and control. For men, both formal and informal sources were more commonly reported by those who experienced moderate violence and control compared with those who experienced relatively less severe acts of physical aggression. The results suggest that research that more sensitively examines people's experiences of violence and control can help identify their health, social, and safety needs; and ultimately better inform the development of programs and services aimed at addressing these needs.


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