Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Recreation and Sport Management

Major Professor

Jason Scott

Committee Members

Angela Wozencroft, Rob Hardin


Children exposed to domestic violence (CEDV) disclose their experiences to a variety of people, most commonly peers and less commonly formal (e.g., teacher) and legal (e.g., police) professionals. Legal system disclosure is more common than formal system disclosure yet remains understudied, leaving unanswered questions about the nature of these disclosures and factors that influence them. Guided by communication privacy management theory and Johnson’s typology of domestic violence (DV), this study addressed gaps in the CEDV literature through a theoretical thematic analysis of the CEDV and legal system disclosure experiences of25 young adults (19-25 years; 23 women; racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse college students) exposed to father-mother-perpetrated DV during their childhood. I specifically focused on factors that influenced their legal system disclosure decisions. Half of the participants had no legal system disclosure (n = 12; nondisclosers), and half had at least some legal system disclosure (n = 13; disclosers). Factors influencing the nondisclosers’ lack of legal system disclosure included compartmentalizing their fathers’ violence, contextual constraints, and fearing their father; this group was further distinguished by whether or not they discussed the DV within their family. Over half of these young adults were categorized as being exposed to situational couple violence. The factors influencing the disclosers’ legal system involvement varied based on whether it was an initial versus subsequent disclosures. Initial disclosure factors included escalating violence and wanting to protect themselves or other family members, whereas subsequent disclosure factors were specific to whether their disclosure goal aligned with the outcome, whether it produced a self-perceived positive (e.g., violence decreased) or negative (e.g., feeling blamed/guilty) outcome, and familial responses upon disclosing and associated outcomes. The majority of these young adults were categorized as having been exposed to coercive controlling violence. Overall, these young adults’ legal system disclosure decisions were heavily dependent upon their family’s secrecy norms pertaining to non-familial involvement. Findings from this study provide empirical and practical implications, as they unpack the conditions under which youth choose to (not) disclose, the factors influencing these decisions, and how the responses and reactions from legal systems inform any subsequent disclosure decisions.

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