Coping with Partner Abuse among Mexican American and Anglo Women: Ethnic and Socioeconomic Influences

Article excerpt

This exploratory study examines the influence of ethnic group membership and socioeconomic status on the coping strategies reported by women victims of partner abuse. Ninety-three Mexican American and Anglo women recruited from the general community were interviewed after being screened for the presence of partner abuse. Individual coping tactics reported by the respondents were coded as internal focus or external focus coping strategies. Multiple regression results indicate that only socioeconomic status significantly predicts internal focus coping beyond the contribution of ethnicity.

Prior research suggests that different women invoke a wide range of tactics to cope with partner abuse (Blackman, 1989; Frieze & McHugh, 1992; Mills, 1985). However, there have been relatively few attempts to interpret the selection of these coping tactics within a sociocultural framework. The purpose of this exploratory study is to assess the influence of ethnic group membership and socioeconomic status on the coping strategies adopted by women victims of partner abuse.

There is a tendency in the coping literature to assume that patterns of coping are universal and not constructed from the specific coping alternatives indicated by a culture. To date, neither the universality nor the cultural specificity of coping mechanisms has been adequately explored. We do not know, for example, whether reactions to the battering situation are partly due to a person's cultural background, the stress created by socioeconomic conditions, or the interaction of both.

Research examining the relationship between ethnicity and wife battering indicates that Mexican American women born in Mexico and Anglo women experience similar rates of violence by their male partners (Kantor, Jasinski, & Aldarondo, 1994; Sorenson & Telles, 1991). Moreover, Hispanic, African American and Anglo women who reside in batteredwomen shelters report experiencing similar severity of abuse, with Hispanic women reporting the longest duration of abuse and the fewest efforts to seek support (Gondolf, Fisher, & McFerron, 1988). However, Mexican American women born in the U.S. report higher rates of victimization than their counterparts born in Mexico (Sorenson & Telles, 1991). Thus, acculturation and growing up as a minority may increase the risk of victimization among U.S.-born Mexican American women.


Research on coping typically distinguishes between two general approaches. The first approach concerns coping styles or dispositions and assumes that people develop stable coping repertoires to deal with a variety of problems (Cohen, 1987). From this viewpoint, coping style reflects an internal trait that remains constant across different stressful situations. The second approach examines the match between specific coping strategies and stressful conditions (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). According to this second view, coping is a function of the specific problem and resources afforded by the context in which the stressor occurs. Situation-specific theories of coping predict that different coping strategies are selected depending on the stressor. The evidence for the first view is mixed. Although coping strategies are presumed to emerge from intraindividual and stable psychological processes, there is evidence that consistency in mode of coping across situations is low. Weak or nonsignificant relationships have been found between coping dispositions (Cohen, 1987), type of stressor (Compas, Forsythe, & Wagner, 1988), and coping behavior.

An emphasis on situational determinants as argued by Lazarus and others (Hill, Hawkins, Raposo, & Carr, 1995; Lazarus, 1980,1993; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) deserves attention. However, much of this research focuses on proximal factors relating to unique stressors and disregards distal sociocultural factors. The roles of ethnicity, poverty, and socioeconomic status are frequently neglected in studies of coping with some notable exceptions (Belle, 1982). …