Study Examines Why Victims of Domestic Violence Do Not Seek Assistance
Tuesday, August 2, 2005 1:15 PM

The purpose of the Chicago Women's Health Risk Study (CWHRS) was to get a "glimpse into abused women's reasons for not seeking particular interventions." All of the women "who entered one Chicago-area hospital and four community-based helath centers" in 1997 were screened for abuse, defined for the purpose of the study as "being physically hurt or threatened or being forced to engage in sexual activity."

The CWHRS conducted interviews with a total of 491 women who had been abused in the previous year and 208 women who had not been abused in the previous year. Of the 491 women who had been abused, forty-four percent (44%) had been abused four or more times during the previous year. Twenty-nine percent (29%) were abused once.

During the interview, participants were asked about four types of "help seeking" or "intervention," including informal conversation with friends or family, calling the police, going to the doctor, or seeking agency assitance or counseling. The women were asked if they had participated in any of the intervention and were then asked to state their reasons for not using any particular intervention.

At the conclusion of the study, the CWHRS noted some similar themes for all four types of intervention. For example, for every category of intervention there were women who stated that they did not seek that type of help because the abuse wasn't serious. Barriers, of various types, were also present for every form of intervention. For the formal interventions (the police, doctors and counselors), the barriers included partners preventing the victim from seeking assistence and logistical barriers, like lack of child care and transportation. In addition a lack of knowledge of resources created a barrier to seeking help from agencies and counselors. For the informal intervention, (talking to someone) forty-eight percent (48%) of the participants cited barriers and isolation reasons for not talking to someone about the abuse.

On the other hand, some reasons were found to be exclusive to one category of intervention. For example, women indicated fear of the consequences of calling the police, for themselves and for their abuser. They indicated concern about housing, immigration and child protective services if they contacted the police. This type of fear was not seen for the other forms of intervention.

Other reasons were cited by women for not seeking help, including a desire to protect their partner and/or continue their relationship, privacy, fear and lack of trust. After reviewing all of the data from the study, the CWHRS offered "three important implications for service providers and communities." They indicate the need to raise awareness about available resources for victims, the need to evaluate our current response systems to determine if they meet the needs of the victims and the need to stress victims' safety and their "right to self-determination." For each, the CWHRS offers suggestions for addressing these implications.

Cited from: Michelle Fugate et al., "Barriers to Domestic Violence Help Seeking," Violence Against Women Vol. 11 No. 3, March 2005.