Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 121–129 | Cite as

Barriers to Seeking Police Help for Intimate Partner Violence

  • Marsha E. Wolf
  • Uyen Ly
  • Margaret A. Hobart
  • Mary A. Kernic


Intimate partner violence is underreported to police. A study was conducted utilizing focus group methodology to identify women's perceptions of the barriers to seeking police help for intimate partner violence (IPV). Facilitators used a structured format with open-ended questions for five focus group sessions that were recorded and subsequently analyzed using Ethnograph software. Participants were 41 women identified from social service agencies in an urban setting serving IPV women with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Participants identified many barriers for victims, which fell within the following three themes: (1) Predisposing characteristics — situational and personal factors; (2) fears and negative experiences with police response; and (3) fears of possible repercussions. Participants also described positive experiences with police and generated a “wish list” for improving police response to IPV. Policies and actions that can be taken by police and social service agencies to address the barriers IPV victims face in seeking police help are discussed.

intimate partner violence domestic violence barriers police 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bachman, R., and Coker, A. L. (1995). Police involvement in domestic violence: The interactive effects of victim injury, offender's history of violence, and race. Viol. Vict. 10(2): 91-106.Google Scholar
  2. Bergen, R. K. (1996). Defining and ending the violence. In Bergen, R. K. (ed.), Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 37-171.Google Scholar
  3. Berk, R. A., Berk, S. F., Newton, P. J., and Loseke, D. R. (1984). Cops on call: Summoning the police to the scene of spousal violence. Law Soc. Rev. 18(3): 479-498.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, S. E. (1984). Police responses to wife beating: Neglect of a crime of violence. J. Crim. Just. 12: 277-288.Google Scholar
  5. Dobash, R. P., Dobash, R. E., Wilson, M., and Daly, M. (1992). The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Soc. Probl. 39(1): 71-90.Google Scholar
  6. Dunford, F. W., Huizinga, D., and Elliott, D. S. (1990). The role of arrest in domestic assault: The Omaha Police Experiment. Criminology 28: 183-206.Google Scholar
  7. Dutton, D. G. (1987). The criminal justice response to wife assault. Law Hum. Behav. 11(3): 189-206.Google Scholar
  8. Erez, E., and Belknap, J. (1998). In their own words: Battered women's assessment of the criminal processing system's responses. Viol. Vict. 13(3): 251-268.Google Scholar
  9. Ewing, C. P. (1987). Battered Women Who Kill, Psychological Self-Defense as Legal Justification, Lexington Books, Lexington, MAGoogle Scholar
  10. Gelles, R. J. (Nov. 1976). Abused wives: Why do they stay. J. Marr. Fam. 659-668Google Scholar
  11. Gondolf, E. W., Fisher, E., and McFerron, J. R. (1990). The helpseeking behavior of battered women: An analysis of 6,000 shelter interviews. In Viano, E. C. (ed.), The Victimology Handbook, Garland, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Henderson, A. (1990). Children of abused wives: Their influence on their mothers' decisions. Can. Ment. Health 38: 10-13.Google Scholar
  13. Hutchison, I. W., and Hirschel, J. D. (1998). Abused women, help-seeking strategies and police utilization. Viol. Against Women 4(4): 436-456.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, I. M. (1990). A loglinear analysis of aubsed wives' decisions to call the police in domestic-violence disputes. J. Crim. Just. 18: 147-159.Google Scholar
  15. Kantor, G. K., and Straus, M. A. (1990). Response of victims and the police to assaults on wives. Straus, M. A., and Gelles, R. (Eds.), Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptation to Violence in 8,145 Families, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ, pp. 473-486.Google Scholar
  16. Langan, P. A., and Innes, C. A. (1986). Preventing Domestic Violence Against Women, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  17. Mahoney, P. (1999). High rape chronicity and low rates of help-seeking among wife rape survivors in a nonclinical sample. Viol. Against Women 5(9): 993-1016.Google Scholar
  18. Rodriguez, M. A., Quiroga, S. S., and Buer, H. M. (1996). Breaking the silence, battered women's perspectives on medical care. Arch. Fam. Med. 5: 153-158.Google Scholar
  19. Schecter, S., and Eldeson, J. (1999). Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice, U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  20. Seidel, J., Kjolseth, R., and Seymour, E. (1994). The Ethnograph: A User's Guide Qualis Research Associates, Littleton, COGoogle Scholar
  21. Sherman, L. W., and Berk, R. A. (1984). The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. Am. Soc. Rev. 49: 261-272.Google Scholar
  22. Singer, S. (1988). The fear of reprisal and the failure of victims to report a personal crime. J. Quant. Criminol. 4(3): 289-302.Google Scholar
  23. Symonds, M. (1980). The “Second Injury” to victims. Eval. Change: 36–38. [Special IssueGoogle Scholar
  24. U.S. Department of Justice. (1998). Violence by Intimates, Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  25. Websdale, N. (1995). An ethnographic assessment of the policing of domestic violence in rural eastern Kentucky. Soc. Just. 22(1): 102-122.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marsha E. Wolf
    • 1
    • 2
  • Uyen Ly
    • 3
    • 4
  • Margaret A. Hobart
    • 5
  • Mary A. Kernic
    • 6
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of WashingtonWashington
  2. 2.Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, SeattleWashington
  3. 3.Department of Health ServicesUniversity of WashingtonWashington
  4. 4.School of MedicineUniversity of WashingtonWashington
  5. 5.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of WashingtonUSA
  6. 6.Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of WashingtonWashington

Personalised recommendations