Academic journal article Social Work Research

Battered Women's Profiles Associated with Service Help-Seeking Efforts: Illuminating Opportunities for Intervention

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Battered Women's Profiles Associated with Service Help-Seeking Efforts: Illuminating Opportunities for Intervention

Article excerpt

Knowledge about where battered women present for services and the violence, biopsychosocial, and demographic factors associated with their help seeking can provide social workers with guidance in anticipating needs among this portion of their clientele. The authors examined the service contact patterns of a sample of battered women (N = 448) following an incident of partner violence that triggered legal involvement. Significant group differences, tested with t tests and chi squares, between women who sought compared with those who did not seek services were found on partner violence exposure and biopsychosocial factors. Correlations and regression analyses of relationships among partner violence and biopsychosocial and demographic factors with help-seeking indices show how battered women's needs differentially relate across a range of service types. Results show distinctive profiles of needs and resources among battered women who seek violence, legal, health, economic, substance abuse, and religious helping services.

KEY WORDS: battered women; depression; health; help seeking; partner violence; social support; substance abuse

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Although they may not be aware of it, social workers see battered and endangered women in their practices every day. Battered women frequently seek support from their social networks and human services providers for a range of life problems without calling attention to the violence in their lives (Henning & Klesges, 2002). Comparatively few battered women seek services from providers who specialize in domestic violence. Social workers span a broad spectrum of human services agencies and are well positioned to facilitate abused women's entry into service systems equipped to address the violence in their lives (Nurius & Asplund, 1994).

If most women in violent relationships are not seeking domestic violence services, where are they going for help? What are their needs? What can we learn from violence exposure, biopsychosocial, and demographic factors to better anticipate their needs across diverse services? We addressed these questions through an investigation of services help-seeking efforts in a sample of battered women following an incident of intimate partner violence. Our goal is to provide practitioners with detailed information about the needs, resources, and characteristics of battered women as they seek help, predominantly from service providers other than violence specialists.

Research generally indicates that women cope with partner violence through informal means as long as possible (Coker, Derrick, Lumpkin, Aldrich, & Oldendick, 2000). As a result, battered women who seek formal services from agencies and providers may have long-standing needs and severe problems (Hutchison & Hirschel, 1998). Partner violence has a radiating impact, with "first order" effects on a woman's physical and mental health and secondary effects on her ability to function in her social world (for example, school, work, or parenting), spanning out to affect others such as family, friends, and coworkers (Riger, Raja, & Camacho, 2002). Service needs illustrated through earlier research include help for biopsychosocial problems related to mental and physical health and injury (Golding, 1999; Plichta & Falik, 2001), substance use (El-Bassel, Gilbert, Schilling, & Wada, 2000), and employment and financial difficulties (Lloyd, 1997).

Although safety is a universal concern, battered women vary in the needs, characteristics, and resources that shape their experience of violence and help seeking (Mitchell & Hodson, 1986). On one hand, they may need formal services to manage the difficulties in their lives to escape or end the abuse. On the other hand, disclosing the abuse or trying to protect themselves and their children may increase their danger in terms of escalated or more insidious abuse, interference with work or schooling, damaged social relations, impairment of the woman's parenting, or danger to children's well-being (Wolf, Ly, Hobart, & Kernic, 2003). …

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