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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Marsha Pravder Mirkin.

Appendixes

Appendixes

Appendix 1

Study 1: Vignette for Groups 1 and 2

Linda is a 29 year old woman married to 30 year old Carl for 7 years. They are the parents of two children: Sofia is 4 years old and Tom is 9 months old. Linda remembers that Carl was very loving to her during the 2 years that they dated before they married. They settled near their families and both worked. Linda reports that things became tense when she was pregnant with Sofia. At that time, Carl felt that she was spending all her time with her family and friends and ignoring him.

When Carl insisted soon after Sofia was born that they move 400 miles from their families because he felt better jobs were available, she protested at first but then agreed. Linda felt more and more isolated after the move. She resented Carl’s persistent demands on her time, and missed her friends and family. After Carl was laid off from his job and Linda became pregnant with their second child, she suggested they move back, Carl slapped her hard across the face, pushed her against a wall, and told her to shut up and not speak about it again. For the rest of the pregnancy, Carl put her down for her physical appearance, let her know that she was worthless, and threatened to slap her again if she continued to argue back. This alternated with times when he was loving, played gently with their daughter, and came up with ideas for fun family events.

After Tom was born, things deteriorated even after Carl found another job. At one point, Carl beat Linda for working late. The children heard Linda screaming and Sofia and the baby both started crying. Another time, when Carl beat Linda for having a long conversation with her sister instead of cleaning up after dinner, Sofia took the baby and hid in another room. Each time, Carl would return, bring her a present or flowers, let her know that he was sorry, that he loved her and could not live without her, and that he hoped that she would stop provoking him. After each violent incident, several weeks and even months would pass when Linda said that Carl was “his old self.”

On this particular night, Linda forgot to pick up a piece of equipment that Carl had sent out for repair. He punched her, threw her down, and then threw a chair at her that almost landed on Sofia. Screaming, Sofia ran out of the room. Carl slammed out of the house. Linda stayed on the floor crying, eventually got up and soothed the children, and was playing with the children when Carl came home bringing flowers and tearfully apologizing.

Study 1: Vignette for Groups 3 and 4

Linda is a 29 year old woman married to 30 year old Carl for 7 years. They are the parents of two children: Sofia is 4 years old and Tom is 9 months old. Linda remembers that Carl was very loving to her during the 2 years that they dated before they married. They settled near their families and both worked. Linda reports that things became tense when she was pregnant with Sofia. At that time, Carl felt that she was spending all her time with her family and friends and ignoring him.

When Carl insisted soon after Sofia was born that they move 400 miles from their families because he felt better jobs were available, she protested at first but then agreed. Linda felt more and more isolated after the move. She resented Carl’s persistent demands on her time, and missed her friends and family. After Carl was laid off from his job and Linda became pregnant with their second child, she suggested they move back Carl slapped her hard across the face, pushed her against a wall, and told her to shut up and not speak about it again. For the rest of the pregnancy, Carl put her down for her physical appearance, let her know that she was worthless, and threatened to slap her again if she continued to argue back. This alternated with times when he was loving, played gently with their daughter, and came up with ideas for fun family events.

After Tom was born, things deteriorated even after Carl found another job. At one point, Carl beat Linda for working late. The children heard Linda screaming and Sofia and the baby both started crying. Another time, when Carl beat Linda for having a long conversation with her sister instead of cleaning up after dinner, Sofia took the baby and hid in another room. Each time, Carl would return, bring her a present or flowers, let her know that he was sorry, that he loved her and could not live without her, and that he hoped that she would stop provoking him. After each violent incident, several weeks and even months would pass when Linda said that Carl was “his old self.”

On this particular night, Linda forgot to pick up a piece of equipment that Carl had sent out for repair. He punched her, threw her down, and then threw a chair at her that almost landed on Sofia. Screaming, Sofia ran out of the room. Carl slammed out of the house. As soon as he was out of sight, Linda picked up the kids, quickly packed one suitcase of things they absolutely needed, took the small amount of money that was in a drawer in the house, got the children into the car, and left before Carl returned home.

Appendix 2

Table 3 Study 1: questionnaire

Appendix 3

Study 1: Information Given to Participants

Information for Groups 1 and 3 (Information Only About Domestic Violence)

This research project is about violence against women by an intimate partner. Intimate partners include current or former spouses or partners. According to the United States Department of Justice, 1.3 million women are assaulted by an intimate partner, each year in the United States. A woman is in more danger of being assaulted, stalked, or raped by an intimate partner than by a stranger. It is more likely for a woman to be a victim of violence in a private home than anywhere else. While abuse can happen in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships, this study will be focusing on a heterosexual couple.

We will hand out a story about a woman who has been beaten by her husband. After you read the story, please answer the questions that follow based on your opinions about the story. Your opinions will be measured using five and seven point scales. Please choose a number that corresponds best with your beliefs. When you are finished, please put your responses in this yellow envelope. You can keep the information sheet about the study. Thank you for your participation in this study.

Information for Groups 2 and 4 (Information About Domestic Violence and Risks of Leaving)

This research project is about violence against women by an intimate partner. Intimate partners include current or former spouses or partners. According to the United States Department of Justice, 1.3 million women are assaulted by an intimate partner, each year in the United States. A woman is in more danger of being assaulted, stalked, or raped by an intimate partner than by a stranger. It is more likely for a woman to be a victim of violence in a private home than anywhere else. When women want to leave, there are a number of factors that keep them in the relationship. For example, many women are afraid that their partner will hurt them. Women are 75 % more likely to be murdered when they leave than when they stay. Many women are also afraid for the safety of their children. Of women who left their partners, 34 % had children threatened with kidnapping and 11 % of the batterers actually kidnapped a child. Court action about child custody may keep the woman in the relationship. When fathers sued for custody, abusive fathers won sole custody more often than non-abusive fathers. Finally, 85 % of victims who tried to get help had returned to the batterer for financial reasons since money and access to the workplace are often controlled by the batterer. While abuse can happen in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships, this study will be focusing on a heterosexual couple.

We will hand out a story about a woman who has been beaten by her husband. After you read the story, please answer the questions that follow based on your opinions about the story. Your opinions will be measured using five a seven point scale. Please choose a number that corresponds best with your beliefs. When you are finished, please put your responses in this yellow envelope. You can keep the information sheet about the study. Thank you for your participation in this study.

Appendix 4

Study 2: Information Given to Participants in Groups Receiving Domestic Violence Information

This research project is about violence against women by an intimate partner. Intimate partners include current or former spouses or partners. According to the United States Department of Justice, 1.3 million women are assaulted by an intimate partner each year in the United States. A woman is in more danger of being assaulted, stalked, or raped by an intimate partner than by a stranger.

When women want to leave, there are a number of factors that keep them in the relationship. For example, many women are afraid that their partner will hurt them. Let’s look at murder: Women are 75 % more likely to be murdered when they leave than when they stay. Many women are also afraid for the safety of their children, so let’s look at kidnapping. Of women who left their partners, 34 % had children threatened with kidnapping and 11 % of the batterers actually kidnapped a child. Court action about child custody may keep the woman in the relationship. When fathers sued for custody, abusive fathers won sole custody more often than non-abusive fathers. And then there are issues of money. 85 % of victims who tried to get help ended up returning to the batterer for financial reasons since money and access to the workplace are often controlled by the batterer.

I will hand out a story about a woman who has been beaten by her husband. After you read the story, please answer the questions that follow based on your opinions about the story. Your opinions will be measured using a scale. Please circle the number that corresponds best with your beliefs. When you are finished, please put your responses in this yellow envelope. Thank you for your participation in this study.

Appendix 5

Study 2: Vignette for Groups 1 and 2

Linda is a 29 year old woman married to 30 year old Carl for 7 years. They are the parents of two children: Sofia is 4 years old and Tom is 9 months old. Linda remembers that Carl was very loving to her during the 2 years that they dated before they married. They settled near their families and both worked. Linda reports that things became tense when Sofia was born. At that time, Carl felt that she was spending all her time with her family and friends and ignoring him.

When Carl insisted soon after Sofia was born that they move 400 miles from their families because he felt better jobs were available, she protested at first but then agreed. Linda felt more and more isolated after the move. She resented Carl’s persistent demands on her time, and missed her friends and family. Linda suggested they move back to be closer to their families. They argued about it and Carl slapped her hard across the face, pushed her against a wall, and told her to shut up and not speak about it again. Carl put her down for her physical appearance, let her know that she was worthless, and threatened to slap her again if she continued to argue back. This alternated with times when he was loving, played gently with their daughter, and came up with ideas for fun family events.

After Tom was born, Carl was laid off from his job and things got worse. They continued to deteriorate even after Carl found another job. At one point, Carl beat Linda for working late. The children heard Linda screaming and started crying. Another time, the children saw Carl beat Linda after an argument over whether Linda should have been on the phone with her sister. Each time, Carl would leave for a few hours and then return, bring her a present or flowers, let her know that he was sorry, that he loved her and could not live without her, and that he hoped that she would stop provoking him. After each violent incident, several weeks and even months would pass when Linda said that Carl was “his old self.”

On this particular night, Linda forgot to pick up a piece of equipment that Carl had sent out for repair. When Carl grabbed Linda, Sofia screamed and ran out of the room. Carl slammed out of the house. Linda stayed on the floor crying, eventually got up and soothed the children, and was playing with the children when Carl came home bringing flowers and tearfully apologizing.

Study 2: Vignette for Groups 3 and 4

Linda is a 29 year old woman married to 30 year old Carl for 7 years. They are the parents of two children: Sofia is 4 years old and Tom is 9 months old. Linda remembers that Carl was very loving to her during the 2 years that they dated before they married. They settled near their families and both worked. Linda reports that things became tense when Sofia was born. At that time, Carl felt that she was spending all her time with her family and friends and ignoring him.

When Carl insisted soon after Sofia was born that they move 400 miles from their families because he felt better jobs were available, she protested at first but then agreed. Linda felt more and more isolated after the move. She resented Carl’s persistent demands on her time, and missed her friends and family. Linda suggested they move back to be closer to their families. They argued about it and Carl slapped her hard across the face, pushed her against a wall, and told her to shut up and not speak about it again. Carl put her down for her physical appearance, let her know that she was worthless, and threatened to slap her again if she continued to argue back. This alternated with times when he was loving, played gently with their daughter, and came up with ideas for fun family events.

After Tom was born, Carl was laid off from his job and things got worse. They continued to deteriorate even after Carl found another job. At one point, Carl beat Linda for working late. The children heard Linda screaming and started crying. Another time, the children saw Carl beat Linda after an argument over whether Linda should have been on the phone with her sister. Each time, Carl would leave for a few hours and then return, bring her a present or flowers, let her know that he was sorry, that he loved her and could not live without her, and that he hoped that she would stop provoking him. After each violent incident, several weeks and even months would pass when Linda said that Carl was “his old self.”

On this particular night, Linda forgot to pick up a piece of equipment that Carl had sent out for repair. When Carl grabbed Linda, Sofia screamed and ran out of the room. Carl slammed out of the house. As soon as he was out of sight, Linda picked up the kids, quickly packed one suitcase of things they absolutely needed, took the small amount of money that was in a drawer in the house, got the children into the car, and left before Carl returned home.

Appendix 6

Table 4 Study 2: questionnaire

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Halket, M.M., Gormley, K., Mello, N. et al. Stay With or Leave the Abuser? The Effects of Domestic Violence Victim’s Decision on Attributions Made by Young Adults. J Fam Viol 29, 35–49 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-013-9555-4

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Keywords

  • Domestic violence
  • Attribution
  • Spousal abuse
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Attitudes