Intimate partner violence

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This article is about types of intimate partner violence. For the main article, see Domestic violence.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is domestic violence by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner, and the violence may be mutual, in which case the relationship may be described as a violent relationship. The most extreme form of such violence may be termed coercive controlling violence, intimate terrorism or simply, coercive control, where one person is violent and controlling, generally perpetrated by men against women,[1] and most likely of the types of violence to require medical services and shelter. Victims of intimate terrorism may engage in "violent resistance" in response to the violence; violent resistance is likely to be infrequent and be conducted by women.[1]

The most common form of intimate partner violence is "situational couple violence" which is conducted by individuals of both genders, nearly equally. When both partners in the relationship engage in controlling and violent behavior it is called mutual violent control.


Intimate partner violence occurs between two people in an intimate relationship. It may occur between heterosexual or homosexual couples and victims can be male or female. Couples may be dating, cohabiting or married and violence can occur in or outside of the home.[1]

Studies by the 1990s showed that both men and women could be abusers or victims of domestic violence.[nb 1] Women are more likely to act violently in retaliation or self-defense one time and with less violence than that by men while men are more likely to commit long-term cycles of abuse. As a result, the issue is not solely about violence against women, but about "violent people" or "violent couples." It also led to further research to better understand the situations within violent homes.[2]

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines intimate partner violence as:

"... any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship".[3]

To these forms of abuse, the WHO adds controlling behaviours as a form of abuse.[4] Intimate partner violence has been observed in heterosexual and same-sex relationships,[5] and in the former instance by men against women, and by women against their male partners.[6]

The WHO reported in 2013 that the incidence of women who had experienced physical or sexual abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime was:[7]

Region Percent
Global 30%
Africa 36.6%
Eastern Mediterranean 37%
European 25.4%
South-East Asia 37.7%
The Americas 29.8%
Western Pacific 24.6%

Gender symmetry[edit]

"Femme battant son mari"; Albrecht Dürer

The theory that women perpetrate intimate partner violence (IPV) at roughly the same rate as men has been termed "gender symmetry." The earliest empirical evidence of gender symmetry was presented in the 1975 U.S. National Family Violence Survey carried out by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles on a nationally representative sample of 2,146 "intact families." The survey found 11.6% of men and 12% of women had experienced some kind of IPV in the last twelve months, while 4.6% of men and 3.8% of women had experienced "severe" IPV.[8][9]:333 These unexpected results led Suzanne K. Steinmetz to coin the controversial term "battered husband syndrome" in 1977.[10] Ever since the publication of Straus and Gelles' findings, other researchers into domestic violence have disputed whether gender symmetry really exists.[9][11][12][13] Numerous other empirical studies since 1975 suggest there is evidence for it.[14][15][9]

Reciprocal and non-reciprocal[edit]

The United States Centers for Disease Control, divide domestic violence into two types: reciprocal, in which both partners are violent, and non-reciprocal violence, in which one partner is violent.[16][17]


Michael Johnson argues for four major types of intimate partner violence (Johnson's Typology),[18] which is supported by subsequent research and evaluation, as well as independent researchers.[19][20][21]

Distinctions are made among the types of violence, motives of perpetrators, and the social and cultural context based upon patterns across numerous incidents and motives of the perpetrator.[19] Types of violence identified by Johnson:

Intimate terrorism[edit]

Intimate terrorism violence against women
by an intimate partner study
by the World Health Organization[22]
Location Physical
Bangladesh city 40 37 53
Bangladesh province 42 50 62
Brazil city 27 10 29
Brazil province 34 14 37
Ethiopia 49 59 71
Japan city 13 6 15
Namibia city 31 16 36
Peru 61 47 69
Peru city 49 23 51
Samoa 41 20 46
Serbia and Montenegro city 23 6 24
Thailand city 23 30 41
Thailand province 34 29 47
Tanzania city 33 23 41
Tanzania province 47 31 56

Intimate terrorism, or coercive controlling violence, occurs when one partner in a relationship uses coercive control and power over the other partner, using threats, intimidation, and isolation. In such cases, "[o]ne partner, usually a man, controls virtually every aspect of the victim's, usually a woman's, life." Michael P. Johnson reported in 2001 that 97% of the perpetrators of intimate terrorism were men.[1] Using Johnson's typology, other studies have found that intimate terrorism is more often perpetrated by women or not gendered at all.[23]

Intimate partner violence may involve sexual, sadistic control,[1] economic, physical,[24] emotional and psychological abuse. Intimate terrorism is more likely to escalate over time, not as likely to be mutual, and more likely to involve serious injury.[19] Because this type of violence is most likely to be extreme, it is survivors of intimate terrorism that are most likely to require medical services and the safety of shelters.[1]

Abusers are more likely to have witnessed abuse as children than those who engage in situational couple violence.[25]

Intimate terrorism batterers include two types: "Generally-violent-antisocial" and "dysphoric-borderline". The first type includes people with general psychopathic and violent tendencies. The second type are people who are emotionally dependent on the relationship.[6] Violence by a person against their intimate partner is often done as a way for controlling their partner, even if this kind of violence is not the most frequent.[26][27] Support for this typology has been found in subsequent evaluations.[28][29]

Violent resistance[edit]

Violent resistance (VR), sometimes thought of as "self-defense", is violence perpetrated by victims against their partners who have exerted intimate terrorism against them.[19] Within relationships of intimate terrorism and violent resistance, 96% of the violent resisters are women.[1]

Situational couple violence[edit]

Situational couple violence, also called common couple violence, is not connected to general control behavior, but arises in a single argument where one or both partners physically lash out at the other.[1][19] This is the most common form of intimate partner violence, particularly in the western world and among young couples, and involves members of both sexes nearly equally. Among college students, Johnson found it to be perpetrated about 44% of the time by women and 56% of the time by men.[1]

It is a relationship dynamic "in which conflict occasionally gets ‘out of hand,’ leading usually to ‘minor’ forms of violence, and rarely escalates into serious or life-threatening forms of violence.”[30]

In situational couple violence, acts of violence by men and women occur at fairly equal rates, with rare occurrences of injury, and are not committed in an attempt to control a partner.[31] It is estimated that approximately 50% of couples experience situational couple violence in their relationships.[31]


Situational couple violence is characterized by a few main traits:

  • Mode: Mildly aggressive behavior such as throwing objects, ranging to more aggressive behaviors such as pushing, slapping, biting, hitting, scratching, or hair pulling.
  • Frequency:Less frequent than PT, occurring once in a while during an argument or disagreement.
  • Severity: Milder than PT, very rarely escalates to more severe abuse, generally does not include injuries that were serious or that caused one partner to be admitted to a hospital.
  • Mutuality:Violence may be equally expressed by either partner in the relationship.
  • Intent:Occurs out of anger or frustration rather than as a means of gaining control and power over the other partner.

Further research[edit]

In 2014, Bates, Graham-Kevan & Archer found that contrary to the male control theory, women were found to be more physically aggressive to their partners than men were, and the reverse pattern was found for aggression to same-sex non-intimates.[23] Furthermore, there were no substantial sex differences in controlling behavior, which significantly predicted physical aggression in both sexes. IPV was found to be associated with physical aggression to same-sex non-intimates, thereby demonstrating a link with aggression outside the family. Using Johnson's typology, women were more likely than men to be classed as "intimate terrorists," which was counter to earlier findings. Overall, these results do not support the male control theory of IPV. Instead, they fit the view that IPV does not have a special etiology, and is better studied within the context of other forms of aggression they identified three subtypes of domestic violence rather than Johnson's two: common couple violence; what they termed "intimate terrorism," noting that women and men can both use violence to control non-violent mates; and "mutual violent control" where both partners use intimate terrorism levels of violence. However, Bates, Graham-Kevan & Archer also stressed that their and Johnson's research sampling methods should be regarded as preliminary: their subjects were relatively few in number and were drawn from known crime victims or battered women, and thus may not be representative of randomized general population samples. Moreover, Bates, Graham-Kevan & Archer argued that, by relying entirely on analysis of data from one partner in an abusive relationship, Johnson's study was incomplete and skewed due to reporting bias.

In 1998, Milardo reported that women are more likely to initiate common couple violence in dating scenarios (83% of female subjects were "at least somewhat likely" to use mild to moderate violence, compared to 53% of men).[32] Furthermore, men reported higher rates of fearing they would suffer common couple violence (70% of men vs. 50% of women). When questioned about the use of more serious violence analogous to Patriarchal or Intimate Terrorism, Milardo found that women were again more likely to approve of its use against a partner. However, women had higher rates of fearing they would be seriously battered.

Mutual violent control[edit]

Mutual violent control (MVC) is rare type of intimate partner violence occurring when both partners act in a violent manner, battling for control.[19]

Sexual violence[edit]

Sexual violence by intimate partners varies by country and can reach as high as 25% of the women having been subject to forced sex. In some countries forced sex, or marital rape, often occurs with other forms of domestic violence, particularly physical abuse.


  1. ^ Gelles 1980, 1989; McNeely and Mann 1990; Shupe, Stacey, and Hazelwood 1987; Straus 1973; Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980; Steinmetz 1977/1978.


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Further reading[edit]

Response article: Johnson, Michael P. (December 2005). "Domestic violence: it's not about gender: or is it?". Journal of Marriage and Family (Wiley for the National Council on Family Relations) 67 (5): 1126–1130. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00204.x. JSTOR 3600300.  Pdf.