Understanding Battered Women’s Help-Seeking Behavior

  1. Gender and Crime
  2. Health
  3. Victimization

Key Findings

  • Childhood victimization influences battered women’s help-seeking decisions; often in ways that inhibit a woman’s ability to seek help.
  • In some cases, childhood victimization engendered a strengthening response in battered women, ultimately aiding in their help-seeking.
  • Five “help-seeking inhibitors” and three “help-seeking promoters” were identified to better understand battered women’s response to abuse.


In the article, “Pathways of Victimization and Resistance: Toward a Feminist Theory of Battered Women’s Help‐Seeking,” Burgess-Proctor examined ways in which women’s childhood victimization experiences informed their adult help-seeking decisions. The study utilized data collected from interviews with 22 battered women who attended a community-based support group in one of two undisclosed U.S. towns. Burgess-Proctor identified several ways in which battered women’s experiences with childhood victimization made them less inclined to seek help for the abuse they endured as adults. These “help-seeking inhibitors” were found to have: (1) established an expectation of abuse for the victim, (2) lowered the victim’s sense of self-worth, (3) prompted their withdrawal from others, (4) engendered a learned silence, and (5) promoted attachment to abusive partners.  Though childhood victimization primarily acted as an inhibitor to help-seeking, in some cases women drew strength from their past experiences and used them to facilitate their adult help-seeking. These “help-seeking promoters” were found to have: (1) encouraged boundary-drawing, (2) fostered a “fighter” mentality, and (3) inspired determination to end the cycle of violence. This study showed that childhood victimization influences adult battered women’s help-seeking decisions. In light of this, and in order to adequately help these women, service providers must be prepared to address the full continuum of violence directed at battered women over the course of their lives.

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