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Battered Women’s Protective Strategies

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 From The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women ( 

Battered Women’s Protective Strategies by Sherry Hamby with contributions from Andrea Bible (July 2009).

In Brief:

When exploring battered women’s protective strategies, the first question to ask is, “Protection from what?” Protection from further violence is one answer, but many domains of a woman’s life are threatened by battering: her physical safety and financial stability, the well-being and safety of her children, her social status, her psychological health, and her hopes and dreams for her life. One goal of this review is to broaden perceptions of both what women are trying to protect and how they are trying to protect it.

A Wide Range of Strategies Despite Constraints

Most women face substantial constraints in accessing services or using other protective strategies, including: batterer’s behavior and threats; financial constraints; institutional policies that can make it difficult to access help; social norms and pressure, as well as a lack of social support; and personal values which complicate women’s choices. Nonetheless, there is substantial evidence that most victims use multiple protective strategies. Existing data suggest all of the following are frequently used: immediate situational strategies; protecting children, family, friends, and pets; calling the police; obtaining a restraining order/order of protection; going to a domestic violence shelter; utilizing other domestic violence program services such as court accompaniment and transportation; reaching out for social support; turning to spiritual and religious resources; using traditional health, mental health & social services; and terminating the relationship.

Invisible Strategies

What is also striking about the research on protective strategies is what is missing, particularly from quantitative research on victims of domestic violence. For example, there is virtually no quantitative research on a wide range of strategies, including how many women: open bank accounts and start saving money; return to school; file for custody of their children, or seek supervised visits for their children when they visit their father; relocate to get away from a stalker; coach their children on how to escape during a violent episode or take steps to minimize their children’s time with the batterer; successfully work with their partners, with or without the assistance of advocates or therapists, to make their relationship safe; or examine all of their constraints and options and make a calculated decision that staying is the safest thing to do at that moment.


A lot of people look at the efforts of battered women and see a glass half empty—too few efforts, executed too late after the violence begins. The data, however, better support the view that most women make many efforts to protect themselves and their children, while also searching for ways to improve their situation despite tremendous barriers. Battered women may not use all possible protective strategies. Depending on their circumstances, some women will adopt strategies to minimize the risk of further losses. Others will attempt immediate confrontation or exit while many will choose a combination of strategies. 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 see the full world the victim lives in.


Associated Files:




Distribution Rights
This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, but may not be altered or sold for profit.



To download this paper, Battered Women’s Protective Strategies” by Sherry Hamby with contributions from Andrea Bible, please click here.


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