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Intimate Partner Violence: Risk and Protective Factors for Perpetration

Persons with certain risk factors are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). Those risk factors contribute to IPV but might 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, while others 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 an IPV perpetrator or victim. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low income
  • Low academic achievement/low verbal IQ
  • Young age
  • Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use
  • Depression and suicide attempts
  • Anger and hostility
  • Lack of non-violent social problem-solving skills
  • Antisocial personality traits and conduct problems
  • Poor behavioral control/impulsiveness
  • 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
  • Hostility towards women
  • Attitudes accepting or justifying IPV
  • Being a victim of physical or psychological abuse (consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration)
  • Witnessing IPV between parents as a child
  • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
  • History of experiencing physical discipline as a child
  • Unplanned pregnancy
Relationship Factors
  • Marital conflict-fights, tension, and other struggles
  • Jealousy, possessiveness, and negative emotion within an intimate relationship
  • Marital instability-divorces or separations
  • Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other
  • Economic stress
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions
  • Association with antisocial and aggressive peers
  • Parents with less than a high-school education
  • Social isolation/lack of social support
Community Factors
  • Poverty and associated factors (e.g., overcrowding, high unemployment rates)
  • Low social capital-lack of institutions, relationships, and norms that shape a community’s social interactions
  • Poor neighborhood support and cohesion
  • Weak community sanctions against IPV (e.g., unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence)
  • High alcohol outlet density
Societal Factors
  • Traditional gender norms and gender inequality (e.g., women should stay at home, not enter workforce, and be submissive; men support the family and make the decisions)
  • Cultural norms that support aggression toward others
  • Societal income inequality
  • Weak health, educational, economic, and social policies/laws

Protective Factors for Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration

Relationship Factors
  • High friendship quality
  • Social support (e.g. tangible help, support from neighbors)
Community Factors
  • Neighborhood collective efficacy (i.e., community cohesiveness/support/connected-ness, mutual trust, and willingness to intervene for the common good)
  • Coordination of resources and services among community agencies

Additional Resources

Literature Reviews
  • Capaldi DM, Knoble NB, Shortt JW, Kim HK. A systematic review of risk factors for intimate partner violence. Partner Abuse 2012;3(2):231–80.
  • Vagi KJ, Rothman EF, Laztman NE, Tharp AT, Hall DM, Breiding MJ. Beyond correlates: a review of risk and protective factors for adolescent dating violence perpetration. J Youth Adolesc. 2013;42:633–49.
  • Yakubovich AR, Stӧckl H, Murray J, Melendez-Torres GJ, Steinert JI, Glavin CE, Humphreys DK. Risk and protective factors for intimate partner violence against women: systematic review and meta-analyses of prospective-longitudinal studies. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(7):e1-e11.
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