1 in 5 Hawaii residents experience domestic violence, new study finds

A new study by the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of intimate-partner violence in Hawaii and the hurdles to seeking help that survivors face.

The “Scars on the Heart: Barriers to Safety for Survivors of Domestic Violence” report found that 18% of Hawaii adults experienced physical violence or intimidation, such as strangulation, abuse while pregnant or the threat of using a gun or a knife, by an intimate partner in the past five years — equating to around 200,000 residents across the state. Approximately 20% experienced coercive control by their intimate partner, which includes isolation tactics and verbal abuse that are not as easily detected.


“One is physical that we talk a lot about. It’s what we know and what we see people typically attribute to domestic violence,” said Angelina Mercado, executive director of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “What has risen in the last couple years and what has resulted in changes in our legislation is coercive control, which we haven’t had a lot of data on.”

Mercado said the data found in the HSCADV study aligned with previous state data that asked respondents whether they’d experienced domestic violence in their entire lifetime, rather than in just the past five years.

“We have a lot of work to do, and this important research will help guide the way,” Amanda Pump, president and CEO of Child &Family Service, said in a HSCADV news release. “We commend the survivors who shared their stories and contributed to the data, and we thank HSCADV for this clear map to advocacy, intervention and prevention.”

The research was conducted in two parts — through both an online survey and one-on-one interviews — to understand the prevalence of, as well as the attitudes and perceptions surrounding, intimate-partner violence and to elaborate on personal experiences and anecdotes.

According to the report, younger adults, people of Native Hawaiian or Filipino descent, members of the LGBTQ+ community and those with incomes under $50,000 experience higher rates of intimate-partner violence. Geographically, West Oahu residents are overrepresented in survivor numbers.

Mercado said it’s not these demographics alone that make someone more susceptible to intimate-partner violence, but rather that people belonging to these demographics have fewer options to find help — such as fewer options for housing or a partner with more control over their finances.

“You have fewer options other than to be in this relationship,” Mercado said. “You have fewer options for housing. You have fewer options other than, perhaps, an abusive partner and their families for child care. That person probably controls your paycheck.”

Mercado said the study’s findings were consistent with state data and reaffirmed a need for culturally sensitive treatment resources.

“We know that culturally specific services that are run by people who identify in that culture, ethnicity or race, where the programming is based on those values of that culture and in that language, it’s quite different. We have a lot of programming and organizations that exist in Hawaii specific to (living in Hawaii), but we don’t have enough of that for domestic violence,” Mercado said. “We’re recommending more of that to specifically address the colonization, the impact of racism and the generational trauma that is impacting these communities.”

Survivors interviewed in the study indicated a need for resources like legal support, housing assistance and recovery therapy but that waitlists are too long, the programs are too expensive or they were deemed ineligible to receive the services.

Survivors surveyed also indicated suffering from chronic stress, substance use, anxiety and depression, with one-third of survivors seeking mental health care following their abuse. Additionally, financial abuse was reported by survivors, with partners damaging their property, causing them to lose their jobs or draining their bank accounts.

“It is clear that survivors of IPV (intimate-partner violence) have complex needs that require a trauma-informed community response,” the report read. “Exploring the results of this study is crucial to identifying those who need help and providing solutions to address the staggering number of domestic violence survivors across the state.”

Mercado said there is a need for more support for domestic violence survivors beyond just state agencies, as well as a need for more work to provide prevention resources.

“I think we need to support the agencies and organizations that are trying to do this work,” Mercado said. “We just don’t have enough of that support on the grassroots level. I think we need to do much more.”

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