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Do We Really Help? Perspectives of Abused Women


  • Melanie Lutenbacher Ph.D., APRN, B.C.,,

    1. Melanie Lutenbacher is Associate Professor and Director, Ph.D. in Nursing Science Program and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Nashville, Tennessee.
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  • Alison Cohen M.S.N., R.N., C.S.,

    1. Alison Cohen is a Family Nurse Practitioner, Vine Hill Clinic, Nashville, Tennessee.
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  • Julia Mitzel M.S.N., R.N., WHNP, SANE

    1. Julia Mitzel is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, Aradia Women's Health Center/Harboview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, Seattle, Washington.
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Address correspondence to Melanie Lutenbacher, Ph.D., R.N., C.S., 503 Godchaux Hall, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Nashville, TN 37240. E-mail:


Abstract  Findings are presented from focus group data collected during a larger study describing factors that inhibit, support, and sustain women's abilities to leave and stay out of abusive relationships. A subset (n = 24) of the larger study sample (N = 40) participated in one of four focus groups. Participants had left or were currently in abusive intimate relationships. Women reported diverse experiences and were in various stages of abusive relationships. Ages ranged from 21 to 51; 67% were Caucasian, and 20% African American. Most women (71%) had at least a high school education and were employed (60%), but 83% reported annual incomes less than $20,000. NVIVO software facilitated content analysis of transcriptions. After initial synthesis of data, 20 women participated in one of two confirmatory focus groups. Four primary themes emerged from the content analysis: (1) Living an Unnatural Experience included maladaptive physical and emotional responses to chronic violence; (2) The Experience of Telling included multiple intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal barriers to disclosure; (3) The Experience of Leaving included descriptions of acute and long-term experiences and difficulties; and (4) Reducing Barriers included participant ideas on ways to reduce barriers to assistance. Recommendations are made to improve community interventions and programs that will facilitate the choices and enhance the successes of women who have experienced domestic violence.