Intimate partner violence

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is domestic violence by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner. Intimate violence can take a number of forms including physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. 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, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors."[1]

The most extreme form of such violence may be termed intimate terrorism, coercive controlling violence, or simply coercive control, which is where one person is violent and controlling; this is generally perpetrated by men against women, and is the most likely of the types to require medical services and the use of a women's shelter.[2][3][4] Subsequently, resistance to intimate terrorism, which is a form of self-defense and may be termed violent resistance, is usually conducted by women.[5][6] Some evidence, which addresses domestic violence against men, suggests that men are more reluctant to report domestic violence committed against them by their female intimate partners.[7]

The most common but less injurious form of intimate partner violence is "situational couple violence" (also known as "situational violence"), which is conducted by individuals of both genders nearly equally,[3][4][5] and is likelier to occur among younger couples, such as adolescents (see teen dating violence) and those of college age.[5][8] 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.[5]

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.[9]

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".[10]

To these forms of abuse, the WHO adds controlling behaviours as a form of abuse.[11]

According to a study conducted in 2010, 30% of women globally aged 15 and over have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence.[12]

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:[13]

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 asymmetry[edit]

Men and women are both victimized, but violence against women has a higher prevalence rate.[14] Although men and women commit equivalent rates of unreported minor violence via situational altercation, more severe perpetration and domestic battery is committed by men.[15][16][17] This is based on newer CTS methodology as opposed to the older version that didn't contextualize violence since 1975.[18] A 2008 review published in journal of Violence and Victims found that despite less serious altercation or violence was equal among both genders, more serious and violent abuse was perpetrated by men. It was also found that women's physical violence was more likely motivated by self-defense or fear while men's was motivated by control.[19] A 2011 systematic review from the journal of Trauma Violence Abuse also found that the common motives for female on male domestic violence were anger, a need for attention, or as a response to their partner's own violence.[20] Another 2011 review published in the journal of Aggression and Violent behavior found differences in the methods of abuse employed by men and women, suggesting that men were more likely to "beat up, choke or strangle" their partners, while women were more likely to "throw something at their partner, slap, kick, bite, punch, or hit with an object".[15][21] However researchers like Michael S Kimmel have criticized CTS methdology in assessing relations between gender and domestic violence. He argues that CTS excludes two important facets in gender violence; conflict-motivated aggression and control motivated aggression.[22] The first facet is a form of family conflict such as an argument while the latter is using violence as a tool for control. Kimmel also argues that CTS methods excludes the seriousness of the injury, sexual assaults and abuse from ex partners or spouses.[22]

Researchers have also found different outcomes in men and women in response to intimate partner violence.A 2012 review from the journal Psychology of Violence found that women suffered over-proportionate number of injuries, fear, and posttraumatic stress as a result of partner violence.[23] The review also found that 70% of female victims in their in one study felt frightened from violence perpetrated by their partners but 85% of male victims expressed "no fear" in response to them.[23] The review also found that IPV correlated with relationship satistifaction for women but it did not do so for men.[23]

According to government statistics from the US Department of Justice, male perpetrators constituted 96% of federal prosecution on domestic violence.[24] Another report by the US department of Justice on non-fatal domestic violence from 2003-2012 found that 76 percent of domestic violence was committed against women and 24 percent were committed against men.[25] According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the percent of victims killed by their spouses or ex-spouses were 77.4 percent women and 22.6 percent men in selected countries across Europe.[26] According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, women experience more intimate partner violence than men: 22.1 percent of surveyed women were assaulted by a partner, compared with 7.4 percent of surveyed men.[27]

Globally, men's perpetration of intimate partner violence against women often stems from conceptions of masculinity and patriarchy. A study of men in Vietnam found that 36.6% of participants perpetrated some form of violence against their partners, mostly due to gendered social learning in their childhood.[28] Studies done in the United States, Nigeria, and Guatemala all support the idea of men reacting violently towards their partners when their masculinity is threatened by changing gender roles.[29][30][31] Furthermore, research has found that men use violence to resolve a crisis of male identity oftentimes at times caused by poverty or at an inability to control women.[32][33]

Violence during pregnancy is another aspect of intimate partner violence that is connected to gender asymmetry. In a study of German women who experiences IPV when pregnant, Stockl and Gardner found that most women understood that the pregnancy was a negative turning point in the relationship.[34] Men acted violently towards their pregnant partners for the following reasons: difficult financial or living situation, questioning relationship commitment, changing role expectations and sexual needs, adverse childhood experiences, jealously towards the unborn child, and unwanted pregnancies.[34]

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.[35][36]:333 These unexpected results led Suzanne K. Steinmetz to coin the controversial term "battered husband syndrome" in 1977.[37] Ever since the publication of Straus and Gelles' findings, other researchers into domestic violence have disputed whether gender symmetry really exists.[36][38][39][40] Numerous other empirical studies since 1975 suggest there is evidence for it.[36][41][42] Empirical studies suggest rates of perpetration remain symmetrical for both minor and severe abuse.[43] This result may instead be due to a bi-directional pattern of abuse, with one study concluding that 70% of assaults involve mutual acts of violence.[44] One reason that data may appear to reflect that men and women equally commit intimate partner violence is that women frequently engage in violent resistance as a means for self-defense against their violent male partners.[27]

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.[45][46] Of the four types, situational couple violence and mutual violent control are reciprocal, while intimate terrorism is non-reciprocal. Violent resistance on its own is non-reciprocal, but is in face reciprocal when in response to intimate terrorism.


Michael P. Johnson argues for four major types of intimate partner violence (Johnson's Typology),[47] which is supported by subsequent research and evaluation, as well as independent researchers.[48][49][50] 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.[48]

Intimate terrorism[edit]

Prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women by an intimate partner, in their lifetime
by the World Health Organization[51]
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." Johnson reported in 2001 that 97% of the perpetrators of intimate terrorism were men.[5] While research generally indicates that women are usually the victims of intimate terrorism,[4] some studies, using Johnson's typology, have suggested that intimate terrorism is more often perpetrated by women or not gendered at all.[52]

Intimate partner violence may involve sexual, sadistic control,[5] economic, physical,[53] 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.[48] The victims of one type of abuse are often the victims of other types of abuse. Severity tends to increase with multiple incidents, especially if the abuse comes in many forms. If the abuse is more severe, it is more likely to have chronic effects on the victim because the long-term effects of abuse are cumulative with each episode over time.[54] 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.[4][5] Consequences of physical or sexual intimate terrorism include chronic pain, gastrointestinal and gynecological problems, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and death.[55] Other mental health consequences are anxiety, substance abuse, and low-self esteem. A 2014 study on the mental health effects of intimate partner terrorism found that 42% of women reported thoughts of suicide and 31% had attempted it.[55]

Abusers are more likely to have witnessed abuse as children than those who engage in situational couple violence.[56]

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.[57] 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.[58][59] Support for this typology has been found in subsequent evaluations.[60][61]

Violent resistance[edit]

Violent resistance (VR), a form of self-defense, is violence perpetrated by victims against their partners who have exerted intimate terrorism against them.[48] Within relationships of intimate terrorism and violent resistance, 96% of the violent resisters are women.[5]

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.[5][48] 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.[5]

Johnson states that 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."[62]

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.[63] It is estimated that approximately 50% of couples experience situational couple violence in their relationships.[63]

Situational couple violence involves:

  • 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 partner terrorism, occurring once in a while during an argument or disagreement.
  • Severity: Milder than partner terrorism, 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.

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.[48]

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.

See also[edit]


  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. JSTOR 3600300. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00204.x.  Pdf.