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Intimate Partner Violence: Risk and Protective Factors

Risk factors are associated with a greater likelihood of intimate partner violence (IPV) victimization or perpetration. They are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as "at risk" becomes involved in violence.

Some risk factors for IPV victimization and perpetration are the same. In addition, some risk factors for victimization and perpetration are associated with one another; for example, childhood physical or sexual victimization is a risk factor for future IPV perpetration and victimization.

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of IPV. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence

Individual Risk Factors

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low income
  • Low academic achievement
  • Young age
  • Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use
  • Depression
  • Anger and hostility
  • Antisocial personality traits
  • Borderline personality traits
  • Prior history of being physically abusive
  • Having few friends and being isolated from other people
  • Unemployment
  • Emotional dependence and insecurity
  • Belief in strict gender roles (e.g., male dominance and aggression in relationships)
  • Desire for power and control in relationships
  • Perpetrating psychological aggression
  • Being a victim of physical or psychological abuse (consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration)
  • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
  • History of experiencing physical discipline as a child

Relationship Factors

  • Marital conflict-fights, tension, and other struggles
  • Marital instability-divorces or separations
  • Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other
  • Economic stress
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions

Community Factors

  • Poverty and associated factors (e.g., overcrowding)
  • Low social capital-lack of institutions, relationships, and norms that shape a community's social interactions
  • Weak community sanctions against IPV (e.g., unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence)

Societal Factors

  • Traditional gender norms (e.g., women should stay at home, not enter workforce, and be submissive; men support the family and make the decisions)

Additional Resources

Literature Reviews

  • Heise L, Garcia-Moreno C. Violence by intimate partners. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, et al., editors. World report on violence and health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2002. p. 87-121. Available from: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/ global_campaign/en/chap4.pdf[PDF 222KB]
  • Kantor GK, Jasinski JL. Dynamics and risk factors in partner violence. In: Jasinski JL, Williams LM, editors. Partner violence: a comprehensive review of 20 years of research. Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage; 1998. p. 1-43.
  • Stith, S.M., Smith, D.B., Penn, C., Ward, D., & Tritt, D. (2004). Risk factor analysis for spouse physical maltreatment: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 65-98.
  • Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington (DC): Department of Justice (US); 2000a. Publication No. NCJ 181867. Available from: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/181867.htm
 

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