Women's Experiences of Intimate Partner Abuse and Coping: A Lifecourse Perspective
Mieko Yoshihama, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Julie Horrocks, PhD, University of Guelph, and Wendi L. Siebold, MA, Michigan State University.
Background. Coping strategies used by women experiencing intimate partner abuse have rarely been examined across the lifecourse. Seldom do studies account for the cumulative abuse women have experienced over their lifecourse, and little is known about trajectories of how women take actions over time. Intimate partner abuse is a pattern of repetitive behaviors that occurs over time, sometimes by multiple partners, and women's coping occurs at multiple time-points, in multiple venues. The use of longitudinal, lifecourse perspectives is necessary to understand better how women cope over time, and ultimately determine what types of services and policies may increase women's safety. Methods. In this study of face-to-face interviews with a community-based sample of 42 women aged 18-54, we investigated two frequently used coping strategies, obtaining a protection order and leaving home overnight, and their use over time. Respondents were randomly selected from a list of female welfare recipients in a large urban county in a Midwestern state. Through the Life History Calendar method (a semi-structured interview involving a calendar-like instrument) and longitudinal data analysis techniques, we assessed the association between coping efforts and current and past experiences of abuse, previous coping efforts, and other factors such as relationship status or receiving welfare. Results. Women who experienced partners' threats to their children and/or family members in a particular year were more likely to obtain a protection order or leave home that same year, after adjusting for other variables. However, the partners' physical and/or sexual violence directed at the women did not necessarily increase the use of either coping strategy in the same year, after controlling for other variables. Sustaining injuries due to partners' violence in a particular year was associated with an increased likelihood of leaving home, but not obtaining a protection order, in the same year. Women were more likely to obtain a protection order or leave home if they had already done so within the current relationship. Conclusions. The strong association between previous coping efforts and the likelihood of taking the same type of coping strategies is consistent with the previous research finding that women make multiple attempts to leave an abusive partner and access outside help over the course of a relationship. This finding contradicts the learned helplessness theory that claims that abused women become “helpless” and reduce their coping over time. Previous research has suggested that the more severe the intimate partner abuse, the more apt a woman is to take action; our findings indicate that this is not the case for all women. These findings call for effective policies and interventions that recognize trajectories of coping efforts, which are influenced by types and timing of abuse experienced.