Open Access Open Badges Research article

Intimate partner violence and help-seeking – a cross-sectional study of women in Sweden

Mariana Dufort12*, Clara Hellner Gumpert12 and Marlene Stenbacka3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Centre for Psychiatry Research and Education, Stockholm County Council & Karolinska Institutet, Norra stationsgatan 69, plan 7, 113 64 Stockholm, Sweden

3 Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Polhemsgatan 60, plan 1, 112 82 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:866  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-866

Published: 21 September 2013



Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global public health concern with possible detrimental consequences for its victims. Studies have found prevalence rates of 15 to 71% for IPV. There is evidence that IPV exposed women perceive barriers to help-seeking and many remain undetected by care givers and authorities. This cross-sectional study aimed to examine IPV exposed women in relation to help-seeking versus non help-seeking from the social services or women’s shelters with regard to social and psychological characteristics as well as relationship with the perpetrator and type of violence exposure.


Two groups of Swedish IPV exposed women were included: non help-seekers (n = 128) were recruited through ads in newspapers, while help-seekers (n = 347) were recruited from four social service sites and twenty women’s shelters around Sweden. Participants were assessed with questionnaires regarding age, education, occupation and relation to the perpetrator as well as validated instruments measuring psychological distress, psychosocial functioning alcohol use and violence. Analyses were made using Chi2 and multivariate logistic regression.


Help-seekers had significantly more often children together with the perpetrator than non help-seekers (64% and 29% respectively) and a high association was found in the fully adjusted model (Adj. OR = 5.46 95% CI 2.99-9.97). Many women in both groups reported a poor social situation and high levels of psychological distress, although more psychological distress was associated with elevated odds for help-seeking (Adj. OR = 2.83 95% CI 1.84-4.34). No differences were found between the groups regarding violence exposure and most women in both groups had experienced severe violence from an intimate partner (95% to 98%).


Results indicate a high problem load among women who had not contacted the social services or women’s shelters due to IPV, and that non help-seekers had similar experiences of severe IPV as help-seekers. This stresses a need to identify IPV exposed women outside specialized settings within the social services and women’s shelters. Asking about partner violence in various health and social care settings could be a feasible strategy to identify battered women and provide them with alternatives for help that ultimately could lead to a life without violence.