Perpetrators of intimate partner violence have significantly heightened chances of being previously exposed to acts of such violence, according to recent findings from a team of American researchers.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the collective term for a range of harmful behaviors directed at a current or former romantic partner or spouse. In the U.S., men commit acts of IPV substantially more often than women. In a study published in January 2015 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers from three U.S. institutions examined the factors that contribute to the perpetration of intimate partner violence. These researchers concluded that previous IPV exposure is one of the most likely contributing factors to perpetration.
Intimate Partner Violence
The most common conception of violence is a physically harmful action directed at another person. However, in the U.S., the accepted definition of intimate partner violence (also known as domestic violence) extends far beyond physical acts and includes the concepts of sexual violence, emotional/psychological violence, threats of violence and stalking. Physical IPV includes things such as kicking, punching, slapping, pushing, choking, burning, biting, scratching or shaking a partner or spouse. It also includes weapon-inflicted violence, the use of one’s body to block another person’s movements and the use of physical restraints. Sexual IPV centers on three things: physically compelling a spouse or partner to engage in a completed or non-completed sexual act, committing acts of sexual abuse and having sex with a spouse or partner who for any reason lacks the ability to give consent to sexual participation.
Emotional/psychological forms of intimate partner violence include social isolation of a spouse or partner, purposeful humiliation or embarrassment of a spouse or partner, restriction of a spouse or partner’s access to resources needed for daily survival and any other act of non-physical coercion. In the context of IPV, a violent threat can include any spoken or gestural hint of the use of sexual violence or physical violence, with or without the brandishing of a weapon. Acts of stalking include following a spouse or partner, harassing a spouse or partner and destroying or damaging the property of a spouse or partner.
IPV and Emotional Trauma
Most people exposed to intimate partner violence do not develop lasting traumatic reactions to their experiences. Despite this fact, exposure to IPV is one of the known potential factors in the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by ongoing and dysfunctional trauma/stress reactions. Even in the absence of diagnosable PTSD, intimate partner violence exposure substantially increases the odds that affected individuals will experience depression- or anxiety-related emotional difficulties, develop significant problems with their physical health and/or experience damaging changes in the strength of their social support networks or ability to keep a job.
Impact of Previous IPV Exposure
In the study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the Long Island Jewish Health System and Beth Israel Medical Center used data from a nationwide project called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to explore the mental/psychological factors associated with committing acts of intimate partner violence. All told, the researchers included 25,631 NESARC participants in their assessment. All of the participants were involved in a relationship at some point within the year prior to their survey enrollment.
The researchers identified 1,677 perpetrators of intimate partner violence in their selected pool of NESARC participants. Among men, the self-reported rate of IPV perpetration was 4.2 percent; the women participants had a self-reported IPV perpetration rate of 7 percent. After statistically analyzing all of the mental/psychological factors associated with committing acts of intimate partner violence, the researchers concluded that the single biggest predictor of perpetration is previous exposure to IPV at the hands of someone else. They also concluded that people who commit acts of IPV have a substantially higher rate of exposure to diagnosable mental illness, including conditions such as personality disorders and alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse). Additional factors singled out as contributors to intimate partner violence perpetration include having a relatively low economic status, being a relatively young adult and having a relatively poorly developed social support network.
The study’s authors believe that mental health evaluations of people who commit acts of intimate partner violence may substantially improve the rate of mental illness detection and increase the chances for successful treatment.