Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Megan Haselschwerdt

Committee Members

Amy Rauer, Samara Madrid Akpovo, Kristen Ravi


In 2013 the Saudi government established the Protection from Abuse Act, which made domestic violence (DV) a crime, as well as outlined the responsibilities of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in providing reporting mechanisms. These and more societal shifts, along with the creation of the governmental family protection units (FPUs), set the stage for greater recognition of DV and more women seeking help. Though public opinion is slowly changing, DV in Saudi Arabia is still largely perceived as a private family matter (Alhabib et al., 2010). Guided by the help-seeking and change model (Liang et al., 2005), I explored how Saudi women’s help-seeking goals aligned with their help-seeking decisions. In collaboration with the Family Protection Unit (FPU), Saudi women with recent DV-related help-seeking experiences due to being subjected to physical DV by their husbands were recruited using purposive sampling. I conducted semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews with 12 women in Arabic (M = 79 minutes). Eight interviews were conducted in person, and four were held on Zoom. Data collection started in January and ended in April 2022. I followed the six analysis phases of thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Two main categories were identified that guided women’s help-seeking goals and experiences: (1) hoping to stop the violence and to stay in the marriage, and (2) losing hope to stop the violence and choosing to leave the marriage. Each category had distinct yet interrelated goals. Women sought help to receive counseling, gain power in marriage, receive medical attention, create a DV report, and get a divorce. Women sought help from their families and in-laws before and/or while they sought legal and formal help (e.g., from police, FPU). Several conditions influenced women’s help-seeking in general: women’s educational level, financial status, and age (individual), family-of-origin and in-law relationship and communication (interpersonal), and social norms around gender and religion (sociocultural). Additional Factors influenced women's help-seeking decisions, including DV-specific factors and the role of their families and in-laws. Findings emphasized the need to expand domestic violence prevention and intervention programs to include women’s families and extend services to a broader section of society.

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