Intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors need to get help for alleviating negative health consequences. The literature indicates that many IPV survivors have adverse childhood experiences (ACE), which also affect their help-seeking behaviors. Considering the negative impacts of accumulative victimization on well-being, IPV survivors with ACEs may show a different help-seeking pattern. Understanding such relationships will better prepare service providers for the survivors of polyvictimization. However, research in this area is limited and often used small samples, focusing on a single type of victimization and overlooking potentially cumulative effects of polyvictimization. This study fills this gap by using a recent data collected from college students and examining IPV survivors’ help-seeking, with a particular emphasis on ACEs.
Data was collected from 4,607 college students at seven universities in the U.S. and Canada through a cross-sectional survey in 2016. This study included 591 students who responded to all major study variables, such as five types of ACEs (child abuse and neglect, exposure to domestic violence, community victimization, peer victimization, and physical and sexual victimization), five types of IPV (threats, and physical, psychological, sexual, and technological violence), and two types of help-seeking (formal and informal). Gender and depression were controlled in the model. Confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) were first conducted for the latent variables of ACEs and IPV, followed by structural equation modeling (SEM) with the observed variable of help-seeking, using Mplus 7.0
CFA for both ACEs and IPV showed a good model fit: ACEs (X2=5.56, CFI=.99, TLI=.99, RMSEA=.04) and IPV (X2=5.56, CFI=.99, TLI=.99, RMSEA=.001). In ACEs, child abuse and neglect were highly related to exposure to domestic violence and community victimization; In IPV, physical violence and threat, physical and technological violence, and psychological and technological violence were correlated, respectively. The structural model fit of ACEs, IPV and help-seeking was also good (X2 = 180.20, CFI=.94, TLI=.91, RMSEA=.06). ACEs were positively related to IPV (β =.35, p<.001). Formal help was sought by the survivors who were female (β =.13, p=.001), victimized by ACEs or IPV (β =.15, p=.001; and β =.33, p<.001, respectively), or with less depressive symptoms (β = -.086, p=.028). Informal help was directly related with IPV victimization (β =.35, p<.001), but not with ACE, gender, or depression.
This study confirms that ACEs increase a risk for IPV and affect survivors’ help-seeking after IPV. Given that ACEs were positively related to formal help, service providers need to consider potentially cumulative effects of ACEs on IPV survivors’ health and well-being. Female survivors used formal help more than males, indicating that male survivors may have challenges in finding appropriate services to meet their needs. Service providers also need to pay attention to survivors’ depressive symptoms that may hinder help-seeking. As IPV survivors used informal help as much as formal help, raising awareness among families and friends about the signs and symptoms of ACEs, IPV, and their health impacts will help them provide supports for survivors by themselves as well as by referring survivors to appropriate services.