Women's perceptions of their community's social norms towards assisting women who have experienced intimate partner violence

Karen Ann McDonnell, Jessica G. Burke, Andrea C. Gielen, Patricia O'Campo, Meghan Weidl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of social norms has played an often unrecognized role in the perception of and action to assist low-income urban women who are in violent relationships. Two forms of social norms will be assessed, including descriptive norms - what people typically do to assist women in a violent relationship - and injunctive norms - defined as what people should do to assist women. This study will present our initial findings into the development of measures to assess women's perception of their community's social norms toward assisting women who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) and how these norms are related to women's perception of the community, reasons for community assistance toward women experiencing IPV, and women's own experience of IPV. Systematic measurement development processes were applied to reliably and validly develop the social norms measures. A three-phase approach was used to develop eight paired items measuring descriptive and injunctive norms. A total of 176 low-income urban women were interviewed and the scale responses were compared to length of time at the residence, perceptions of their neighborhood, perceived reasons for community involvement and non-involvement in assisting women experiencing IPV, and IPV experienced as an adult. The two developed social norms scales were found to have high internal consistency alpha coefficients of 0.84 for descriptive norms and 0.93 for injunctive norms. Paired t tests were statistically significant, denoting higher injunctive than descriptive social norms. Lowered descriptive norms were found among younger women, women who reported that they did not think their neighborhood was a good place to live, women who had ever experienced intimate partner violence as an adult, and perceived lower reasons for neighbor involvement and higher reasons for neighbor non-involvement toward assisting women experiencing IPV. Higher levels of injunctive social norms were statistically associated with living in a good place and increased perceived reasons for neighbor involvement toward assisting women experiencing IPV. Significant differences between descriptive and injunctive norms suggest that women, especially those who are currently experiencing IPV, would prefer greater support from community neighbors than they are currently providing. The descriptive and injunctive social norms scales demonstrated a high level of internal reliability and significantly associated with other influencing factors thought to be associated with social norms. Overall, the performance of the injunctive and descriptive norms scales support their use as a tool to investigate social norms toward neighbors taking action to assist women experiencing IPV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-253
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Intimate partner violence
  • Social norms
  • Urban
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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