Abstract: Patterns and Predictors of Young Women's Disclosure of Physical and Sexual Intimate Partner Violence Victimization (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Patterns and Predictors of Young Women's Disclosure of Physical and Sexual Intimate Partner Violence Victimization

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Angie Kennedy, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Deborah Bybee, PhD, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Carrie Moylan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Kristen Prock, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose: Intimate partner violence (IPV) victimization peaks during adolescence and emerging adulthood and has been linked to myriad poor outcomes among young women, including increased risk of binge drinking, drug use, depression symptoms, and suicidality. However, young women may be reluctant to disclose to anyone or seek help: They may minimize the abuse, feel ashamed, or fear that they will be accused of lying or blamed for what happened, thus exacerbating their distress. Despite the potential drawbacks, disclosure is important because it represents the first step in attaining emotional support and tangible assistance; it may also help reduce the mental health effects of victimization. However, we know very little about young women’s disclosure of IPV, especially sexual IPV—which may be experienced as particularly shameful. Therefore, the purpose is to examine patterns of disclosure (to informal support vs. formal providers vs. both) related to physical and sexual IPV, as well as predictors of disclosure, within a sample of young women from diverse settings.

Method: Participants (N = 283; ages 18-24, 44% White, 33% Black, 10% Latina, 10% biracial, 3% Asian) who had experienced IPV were recruited from a university (n = 90), a two-year college (n = 96) and community sites serving low-income young women (n = 97). We used the life history calendar to assess participants’ experiences with physical and sexual IPV victimization, and related disclosure, across each of their abusive relationships (up to four relationships, beginning with their first; 415 total). We used the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale to assess physical IPV, and six items adapted from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey to assess sexual IPV (rape and attempted rape). We used Chi-square to explore disclosure patterns by setting and relationship number; we used multilevel modeling (MLM) to examine socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, relationship characteristics (e.g., relationship length), setting, IPV severity, fear, and type of IPV (physical vs. sexual vs. both) on the odds of any disclosure during the first abusive relationship and across abusive relationships.

Results: Overall, participants were more likely to disclose to informal supports than formal providers, and they disclosed physical IPV more often than sexual IPV. Community participants reported significantly higher rates of physical IPV disclosure, compared to university and two-year college participants; there were no differences in disclosure by relationship number. MLM results indicated that community setting and fear were predictors of increased odds of disclosure during the first abusive relationship, while fear, sexual IPV severity and IPV type (physical or both vs. sexual) were predictors of increased odds of disclosure across abusive relationships.

Conclusions: In order to reduce IPV among young people, we must commit to prevention and intervention approaches that reach everyone, not just those in high school or four-year universities and colleges. To promote disclosure of IPV and facilitate survivors’ access to the support and resources they need, it is critical that we design programs that both help them label their IPV experiences—especially sexual IPV—as abusive, and reduce the shame and stigma they feel.