Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 35–49 | Cite as

Stay With or Leave the Abuser? The Effects of Domestic Violence Victim’s Decision on Attributions Made by Young Adults

  • Megan McPherson Halket
  • Katelyn Gormley
  • Nicole Mello
  • Lori Rosenthal
  • Marsha Pravder MirkinEmail author


While negative attributions are often made toward female victims of domestic violence, studies have not explored whether attributions shift contingent upon whether women stay with or leave abusive husbands. Further, no studies investigated whether negative attributions decrease if the participants receive information about the prevalence of domestic violence or the risks inherent in leaving an abuser. Therefore, two studies were designed that investigated attributions made by young adults when women either stay with or leave an abusive husband and whether educating the participants about prevalence of domestic violence and risks of leaving mitigate negative judgments. In both studies, young adults responded to surveys assessing attributions toward a female heterosexual victim of domestic violence. Results indicated that participants made more positive attributions about her personality characteristics and parenting ability if a woman left the relationship. Informing students beforehand about potential risks of leaving and personal experience with domestic violence did not erase this effect, but interactions mitigated some of the effects. Results suggest that educating young adults about risks of violence while useful, is not sufficient to change blaming attitudes. Educators may instead need to challenge the attribution process. Further research involving attributions toward gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence is suggested.


Domestic violence Attribution Spousal abuse Intimate partner violence Attitudes 



This research was supported in part by a grant from Lasell College’s Research Across the Curriculum (RAC) program made possible through the Davis Educational Foundation. The authors would like to thank members of our research team who helped to conceptualize and implement this study: Jade Witter, B.S., Kate Lyons, B.S., Nisha Cirino, B.S., Brittany Gallant and Kelly Pigott. We would also like to thank Dr. Joann Montepare, Dr. Robin Miller and Dr. Felice Gordis for their assistance. Authors contributed equally to the research.


  1. Anderson, L. A., & Whiston, S. C. (2005). Sexual assault education programs: a meta-analytic examination of their effectiveness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(1), 374–388. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00237.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balsam, K., & Szymanski, D. (2005). Relationship quality and domestic violence in women’s same-sex relationships: the role of minority stress. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(3), 258–269. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00220.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett, O. (2001). Why battered women do not leave: part 2. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 2(1), 13–35. doi: 10.1177/1524838001002001001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boston Public Health Commission. (2009). 2009 03-12 Public Health Commission surveys youth on dating violence. Retrieved from:
  5. Bryant, S. A., & Spencer, G. A. (2003). University students’ attitudes about attributing blame in domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 18(6), 369–376. doi: 10.1023/A:1026205817132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buel, S. M. (1999). Fifty obstacles to leaving, a.k.a., why abuse victims stay. The Colorado Lawyer, 28(10), 19–28.Google Scholar
  7. Burns, S. M. (2011). Women across cultures: A global perspective (3rd ed.). NY: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Understanding intimate partner violence. Retrieved from
  9. Chesler, P. (1986). Mothers on trial. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  10. Clark County Prosecuting Attorney (2010). Domestic violence: Fast facts on domestic violence. Retrieved from
  11. Coleman, J. U., & Stith, S. M. (1997). Nursing students’ attitudes toward victims as predicted by selected individual and relationship variables. Journal of Family Violence, 12(2), 113–138. doi: 10.1023/A:1022838226658.Google Scholar
  12. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (2011). Definition of domestic violence. Retrieved from
  13. DeBecker, G. (1997). The gift of fear. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  14. Deboard-Lucas, R. L., & Grych, J. H. (2011). Children’s Perceptions of intimate partner violence: causes, consequences, and coping. Journal of Family Violence, 26(5), 343–354. doi: 10.1007/s10896-011-9368-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giles, J. R., Cureen, H. M., & Adamson, C. E. (2005). The social sanctioning of partner abuse: perpetuating the message that partner abuse is acceptable in New Zealand. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 1(26), 97–116. doi: 10.1177/1524838009334131.Google Scholar
  16. Glover, M. (1995). Te puna roimata: Maori women’s experiences of male partner violence: Seven case studies. Hamilton: Glover.Google Scholar
  17. Hamilton, B., & Coates, J. (1993). Perceived helpfulness and use of professional services by abused women. Journal of Family Violence, 8(4), 313–324. doi: 10.1007/BF00978096.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hillier, L., & Foddy, M. (1993). The role of observer attitudes in judgments of blame in cases of wife assault. Sex Roles, 29(9/10), 629–644. doi: 10.1007/BF0028909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kimmel, M. S. (2002). “Gender symmetry” in domestic violence: a substantive and methodological research review. Violence Against Women, 8(11), 1332–1363. doi: 10.1177/107780102237407.
  21. Kurdek, L. A. (2005). What do we know about gay and lesbian couples? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(5), 251–254. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00375.x.Google Scholar
  22. Landenberger, K. M. (1998). The dynamics of leaving and recovering from an abusive relationship. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 27(6), 700–706. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.1998.tb02641.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. LaViolette, A., & Barnett, O. (2000). It could happen to anyone: Why battered women stay. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Locke, L. M., & Richman, C. L. (1999). Attitudes toward domestic violence: race and gender issues. Sex Roles, 40(3/4), 227–247. doi: 10.1023/A:1018898921560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. National Coalition for the Homeless. (2009). Domestic violence and homelessness. Retrieved from:
  26. Nettleton, P. H. (2011). Domestic violence in men’s and women’s magazines: women are guilty of choosing the wrong men, men are not guilty of hitting women. Women’s Studies in Communication, 34(1), 139–160. doi: 10.1080/07491409.2011.618240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Postmus, J. L., Warrener, C., McMahon, S., & Macri, L. (2011). Factors that influence attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of students toward survivors of violence. Journal of Social Work Education, 47(2), 303–319. doi: 10.5175/JSWE.2011.200900122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: distortions in the attribution process. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 173–220. doi: 10.1016/S00652601(08)60367-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Seelau, S., & Seelau, E. (2005). Gender-role stereotypes and perceptions of heterosexual, gay and lesbian domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 20(6), 363–371. doi: 10.1007/s10896-005-7798-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness: On depression, development, and death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  31. Senchak, M., & Leonard, K. E. (1994). Attributions for episodes of marital aggression: the effects of aggression severity and alcohol use. Journal of Family Violence, 9, 378–381. doi: 10.1007/BF01531946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stahly, G. B. (2008). Battered women why don’t they just leave? In J. C. Chrisler, C. Golden, & P. D. Rowe (Eds.), Lectures on the psychology of women (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  33. State of California (2009). County of Los Angeles Search Warrant and Affidavit. Retrieved from
  34. Summers, G., & Feldman, N. S. (1984). Blaming the victim versus blaming the perpetrator: an attributional analysis of spouse abuse. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24(4), 339–347. doi: 10.1521/scp.1984.2.4.339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Walker, L. E. (1991). Post-traumatic stress disorder in women: diagnosis and treatment of battered woman syndrome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 28(1), 21–29. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.28.1.21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Walker, L. E. (2009). The battered woman syndrome (3rd ed.). NY: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  37. Wandrei, M. L., & Rupert, P. A. (2000). Professional psychologists’ conceptualizations of intimate partner violence. Psychotherapy, 37(3), 270–283. doi: 10.1037/h0087788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Megan McPherson Halket
    • 1
  • Katelyn Gormley
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nicole Mello
    • 1
  • Lori Rosenthal
    • 1
  • Marsha Pravder Mirkin
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Social Sciences DepartmentLasell CollegeAuburndaleUSA
  2. 2.Boston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations