6.4 Responses to IPV

Responses to IPV

Survivors of IPV are often not passive or helpless. They try a wide variety of tactics to try to prevent, minimize, or escape the violence, as well as to protect their families. Interviews conducted with women from Latina, Vietnamese, and South Asian backgrounds (Bhuyan, Mell, Senturia, Sullivan, & Shui-Thornton, 2005; Erez & Harley, 2003; Lee, Pomeroy, & Bohman, 2007; Takano, 2006; Yingling, Morash, & Song, 2015), immigrants from Africa (Ting, 2010), and immigrants from Mexico (Brabeck & Guzman, 2008) have helped identify the following ways of coping with IPV:

  • Attempting to be unnoticeable. Survivors would attempt to be quiet, be still, and avoid arguments. One woman described “I don’t answer back, ignore, and just stand there and die inside of anger,” while another described “I keep quiet when he is angry and let him do whatever he wants” (Yingling et al., 2014, p. 12).

  • Turning to family or friends. Survivors turned to family or friends for emotional help, resources, and help navigating social services. One woman described how she turned to co-workers, stating, “I told women at work. I couldn’t hide what was going on. It was too much to keep to myself”. Another described how turning to neighbors was helpful, reporting, “I talked to a neighbor. She’s the one who told me that you can call police; the police can help you and my husband would be arrested,” (Ting, 2010, p. 354-355).

  • Relying on religion or religious leaders. Prayer is a common coping response. One woman reported that prayer “helps me forget the problem for a while, and I feel peace in my mind” (Yingling et al., 2014, p. 13).

  • Trying to obey or calm the abuser. One woman described how she tried “staying to myself, doing things the way he wanted them to be done. I did that just to stay alive. It worked, and I stayed alive long enough to get away” (Brabeck, & Guzman, 2008, p. 1287). Another woman reported, “Even though I don’t agree, I end up agreeing with him to avoid more problems” (Ting, 2010).

  • Ignoring, denying, or minimizing abuse. “Mainly, I would just try to ignore everything. If he hurt me, I tried to ignore it.” (Brabeck, & Guzman, 2008, p. 1289).

  • Accepting fate. Some survivors believed in God’s will or accept karma. “I believe that God will take care for me, that God has a reason for having me suffer, and I believe that God is just, that God will punish my husband for what he did to me. Someday I will get justice and he [her husband] will get his punishment” (Ting, 2010, p. 352).

  • Hoping for change in the future. Some women hoped for change in their relationship. One woman described, “I had hope he would change since in my family, my father had changed. [My grandparents] talked to my father, and he changed. He stopped, so I had hope my husband would too. Some men do. I believed it was possible” (Ting, 2010, p. 351). Other women looked forward to a future time when they would be able to leave: “I need him only for now, but when the children are older, and I can work, I will not need his money; I will not need him” (Ting, 2010, p. 351).

  • Leaving the room or the home temporarily. Women locked themselves in a closet or left the home to avoid abuse. Women reported that these strategies could provide temporary safety although they were still at risk. For example, one woman who locked herself into a room described how “he’d just unscrew the bolts and open the door” (Brabeck & Guzman, 2008, p. 1288).

  • Standing up to the partner by hitting back or talking back. One woman reported, “He would swear at me and put me down, watch me, order me around. I couldn’t stand it. I hit him and ran to the bedroom, locked the door, so he couldn’t come after me” (Yingling et al., 2014, p. 14).

  • Seeking Formal Help. Survivors called the police. As one woman described, “I pressed charges and that was freeing. I didn’t want him to do this [abuse] to any other women. I said, this stops right here.” Survivors also accessed advocacy and shelter services. For example, one woman reported, “The shelter is very helpful because I can sleep at night finally, and my son can sleep at night” (Brabeck & Guzman, 2008, p. 1281).

  • Leaving partners. When other coping strategies failed, survivors would leave their partners. This required advance planning, including efforts to move to an undisclosed location, disguise oneself, and/or save personal money (Brabeck & Guzman, 2008).

    A study found that survivors who used a greater variety of strategies were more likely to successfully separate from their abusive partners, and were also more likely to contact family or friends, an advocacy program, and the police (Yingling, et al., 2015). We note that not all survivors chose to leave their partners, and that there are many reasons for this choice. For more information, please see the callout: “Why don’t they just leave?”

    In one series of interviews about coping with IPV, survivors described how they would add new strategies over time. Survivors generally relied at first on internal resources do deal with IPV. They would begin by trying to tolerate abuse, become unnoticeable, or rely on faith. When this was unsuccessful, they would reach out to family, friends, and professionals for help (Yingling, et al., 2015). Survivors who continued to live with their abusive partners were most likely to use avoidance strategies, attempting to be unnoticeable (Yingling, et al., 2015).

    A counselor talks with a woman who was a victim of partner abuse

    A counselor talks with a woman who was a victim of partner abuse.

    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Lola Koloa’Matangi – CC BY 2.0.

    It is important to note that there are some marked differences in help-seeking behaviors that vary by immigrant/refugee background. For example, one study found that Muslim immigrants were less likely than non-Muslim immigrants to call the police, due to fear of spouses, fear of reprisal from family, and a desire to protect their spouses, but they are more likely to have the police become involved due to neighbors or others calling the police (Ammar, Couture-Carron, Alvi, & Antonio, 2013). Another study found that asian immigrants access mental health services less frequently than immigrants from other areas (Cho & Kim, 2012). Japanese immigrants were less likely than United States-born women of Japanese descent to confront a partner, leave temporarily, or seek help (Yoshihama, 2002). Further, when Japanese immigrants used these strategies, they experienced higher psychological distress compared to Japanese immigrants who did not use them. It is likely that a cultural taboo against these strategies influences both the use of the strategies and feelings after using them (Yoshihama, 2002).


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Immigrant and Refugee Families, 2nd Ed. Copyright © 2019 by Jaime Ballard, Elizabeth Wieling, Catherine Solheim, and Lekie Dwanyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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