The way women cope with intimate partner violence (IPV) varies based on a number of factors. In a recent study, Lauren Bennett Cattaneo of the Department of Psychology at George Mason University in Virginia tested a relatively new coping model on a sample of 142 female survivors of IPV. The women were recruited after they had filed a legal complaint against their current or former partners. They were assessed for levels of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse and stalking that they had experienced. Their family status and income levels were evaluated as well. Cattaneo followed the women for a year to determine which category of risk they fell into, and how that risk influenced the type of coping strategies they employed. She found that the participants fit into one of three risk categories based on types of abuse endured and whether they had a child with their partner.
The low-risk category was represented by 34% of the participants and included women who had experienced low levels of all types of abuse. These women had a 40% chance of having parented a child with their abuser. The moderate-risk women had experienced more severe abuse, especially psychological and physical abuse. They still had low levels of sexual abuse and had a slightly higher chance of co-parenting with their abusers. This group was represented by the majority of participants, with just over 44% of women falling into this category.
The third and final group was made up of 20% of participants with high rates of all types of abuse, including sexual abuse. They had the lowest probability of co-parenting with their abusers, but also had the lowest probability of losing custody of their children to their perpetrators. They were not significantly dependent on their abusers financially or otherwise. In general, these women had the least to lose by choosing extreme coping measures such as leaving the relationship. However, these women had the highest rates of depression and posttraumatic stress. Despite that, they tended to seek help more than the women in the other groups, but were less likely to have all of their immediate needs met.
Cattaneo found that the biggest risk factor that influenced help-seeking behaviors in victims of IPV is having a child with the abuser. Rather than low abuse and co-parenting motivating one to take drastic action, it leads to less extreme action. But these findings also contradict existing research that indicates the most-abused women are less likely to get help because of the risks involved. “These findings suggest the opposite; that despite potential obstacles and high risk, women are still engaging in more and more coping strategies as the severity of violence increases,” Cattaneo said. Taken together, these results demonstrate that current survivor-centered models of IPV are critical for assessing what risks will prevent and promote coping strategies in women.
Zanville, Holly A., and Lauren Bennett Cattaneo. The nature of risk and its relationship to coping among survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence 2.4 (2012): 355-67. Print.
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