Barriers to Seeking Police Help for Intimate Partner Violence

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  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, MA

    Google Scholar 

  10. Gelles, R. J. (Nov. 1976). Abused wives: Why do they stay. J. Marr. Fam. 659-668

  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 York

    Google 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, DC

    Google 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, DC

    Google Scholar 

  20. Seidel, J., Kjolseth, R., and Seymour, E. (1994). The Ethnograph: A User's Guide Qualis Research Associates, Littleton, CO

    Google 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 Issue

  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, DC

    Google 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 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mary A. Kernic.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wolf, M.E., Ly, U., Hobart, M.A. et al. Barriers to Seeking Police Help for Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Family Violence 18, 121–129 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022893231951

Download citation

  • intimate partner violence
  • domestic violence
  • barriers
  • police