Battered Women’s Protective Strategies

Good article on how battered women use various strategies to cope with battering, ranging from leaving the scene to confiding to friends.

Link to Article

When exploring battered women’s protective strategies, the first question to ask is, “Protection from what?” Protection from further violence is a natural and obvious answer to this question, but it is not the only answer. Many other domains of a woman’s life are also threatened by battering: her financial stability, the well-being and safety of her children, her social status and the degree to which she is subjected to a stigmatized identity, her psychological health and sense of self-worth, and her hopes and dreams for the course of her life. These are just a few of the areas that are routinely threatened by a woman’s abusive partner. Indeed, the threats to these domains may in some cases be greater than the threats of injury or physical pain.

Victims are never responsible for the battering perpetrated against them, but, just as people cope and respond to other negative events, victims must also cope and respond to battering. Few people recognize that women are often attempting to cope with numerous threats posed by battering, not just the threat of bodily harm. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to protect oneself from all of these harms simultaneously, or even to spread the risks more or less equally across these domains. Rather, acts that protect against one form of harm often exacerbate other harms. In particular, the unintended consequences of leaving for battered women and their children, especially leaving abruptly in an emergency context, are under-acknowledged by many scholars and advocates (Davies, 2009). It is perhaps natural to assume that escaping violence as quickly as possible is an obvious choice for any victim. The reality, however, can be much bleaker. Some women are so destitute, both financially and socially, that leaving, especially in a short time frame, may be worse than staying.

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[…] assumptions that leaving is always better or safer than staying have meant that people do not always recognize the wide array of protective strategies that victims use. There are many strategies in addition to leaving the abuser or staying in a shelter. One goal of this review is to broaden the definitions of both what women are trying to protect and how they are trying to protect it.

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The typical battered woman is constantly assessing her risk of danger and trying different protective strategies in response. As they see how different strategies work under varying conditions, they continue to strategize and adapt. We need to know much more than we do about when and why women choose particular strategies, and much more about all of the various strategies that women do use. A balanced overall strategy that operates on several fronts—not just focusing on safety but also acknowledging all of the risks that women face—is almost certainly what most women do. In order to best help battered women maximize gains and minimize losses across all the domains of their lives, advocates, providers, and scholars all need to work harder to step back and see the full world in which the victim lives.

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The few studies that assess many types of responses to violence (Hamby & Gray-Little, 1997; Yoshihama, 2002) indicate that many women—perhaps two-thirds—are trying numerous responses to violence, including some that are typically labeled “active” and “passive.” Instead of trying to characterize victim’s coping as either active or passive, it would be better to recognize that a smart overall strategy might include elements of both. That is likely to be the best way to simultaneously minimize harms and maximize the potential for gains.

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