Honors Project Spotlight: Perceptions of Abuse

By Bailey Sapp (senior)

As a Social Work major, there were multiple routes I could have taken for my senior honors project. I had a lot of loose ideas for general topics that I could have studied, but my ideas lacked specific direction. When I approached my mentor, Dr. Danielle Giroux, to begin my project, I basically spilled out all my interests to her. I expressed that I was most interested in studying LGBTQ+ issues, the concept of feminism, domestic violence, and women’s rights issues. Through this discussion, she helped me direct my thinking and narrow my focus on how specific demographic factors, or traits about a person, might impact the way they view intimate partner violence.

After the long process of delving into the existing literature surrounding the various forms of abuse and what factors impact the way a person perceives abuse, I decided to specifically study how college students recognize verbal, sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, as well as coercive control, isolation, and intimidation. Based off the existing literature, the demographic factors I decided to focus on were age, year in college, and gender. These factors have been previously proven to impact the way a person perceives abuse. However I also added two unique demographic aspects to my project that were not previously reflected in existing literature. I asked the participants if they were single or in a relationship and whether they identified as a feminist or not to try to understand if these factors might also sway the way a person recognizes abuse.

In order to carry out my research and test my hypotheses surrounding my topic, I administered an anonymous survey that included all of the demographic factors listed above, as well as a scenario for each of the seven types of abuse I chose to study. Participants taking the survey were asked to rate the level of severity of abuse in the scenarios on a five-point scale where 0 is equal to “Not Abuse” and 4 is equal to “Severe Abuse”.

This is an extremely important and relevant topic, and it is something that I am very passionate about, so I am so excited that I have been able to conduct this research on campus and share my findings with the MVNU community. I was also honored to be able to share my project through an Honors Seminar where we had tough but meaningful discussions regarding intimate partner violence and the various forms of abuse that can exist within a relationship.

In April, I will present my findings at the Symposium for Undergraduate Research (sURC) here at MVNU, and in June, I will be presenting my research at the National Association of Social Work (NASW) Conference in Washington, DC. Working on this project has been the most wonderful experience, and my research has gone so much further than I ever expected. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity and am so excited to share my findings and raise awareness through this project.


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