Sparse, anecdotal data indicate that predominantly Hispanic San Antonio, Texas has a high incidence of intimate partner violence (IPV). The public health department initiated a community-wide survey to understand community scope of IPV and learn COVID-19’s impact. Respondents’ coping responses and interactions with support systems were also surveyed.
Methods and Study Design
The English/Spanish-language online survey was developed with subject matter experts, advocates and survivors. The survey used an intersectional approach to examine diverse experiences, with opportunities throughout for respondents to share perspectives and lived experiences (Cardenas, 2020). There were 1,435 valid responses, with a mean age of 45.6, well-represented geographically. Respondents were predominantly female, with close to 16% men; 49% Hispanic, and 34% White non-Hispanic (WNH). Approximately two-thirds (66.1%) reported having experienced IPV.
Respondents who reported experiencing IPV were asked, “. . . what actions did you take?” and “If . . . (you) took no action at the time, what were your main reasons for not acting?” For both, respondents could choose multiple answers and enter “other” responses. The three most frequently reported actions taken (responses indicated a total of 1,754 actions taken) were: Called law enforcement (n=346, 19.7%), got counseling for myself (n=310, 17.7%), other (n=277, 15.8%). Three top responses written in the “Other” field included Moved to another city/state/country, Broke up/Ended the relationship/Separated, and Left.
The most frequently indicated main reasons for not acting (1,431 responses) were: I was waiting for things to change (n=374, 26.1%), I wasn’t sure it would make any difference (n=272, 19.0%), Other (n=239, 16.6%), I didn’t know where to turn for help (n=211, 14.7%), and I was concerned I wouldn’t be believed (n=176, 12.3%). Frequent “Other” responses included: Fear (n=18, 15.5%), I didn’t recognize it as DV initially/It took a while for me to realize what I was going through was DV/abuse (n=21, 8.6%), I lacked the financial resources to leave/Waiting for my financial situation to improve so I could leave (n=21, 8.6%), Shame/Embarrassment/Did not want to admit problems/Did not want anyone to know (n=20, 8.2%), and Threats and serious concerns about safety, personal or family endangerment/retaliation (n=20, 8.2%).
The range and number of actions taken support the assertions of advocates that it is a myth to consider those experiencing IPV as passively enduring victimization (Bent-Goodley, 2011). Many respondents also reported not acting for a variety of reasons, including fear, expectations of change, sense of futility, and not knowing where to access help.
The interplay of answers to these two questions can inform community efforts to increase help-seeking and help-attainment for the vulnerable, often hidden population of those experiencing IPV. Respondents’ qualitative responses add rich depth and detail. In particular, reasons for not acting suggest potential modifiable intervention targets for community providers, as well as promising themes to address with public education campaigns. A social justice lens (Cardenas, 2020; Kennedy et al., 2012) will guide discussion of implications, with consideration of especially vulnerable subgroups in efforts to improve community response to IPV.