Risk and Protective Factors

Key points

  • Many factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of someone experiencing or perpetrating violence.
  • Risk factors can increase the risk of experiencing or perpetrating violence and protective factors can reduce the risk.
  • Preventing intimate partner violence requires understanding and addressing risk and protective factors.

What are risk and protective factors?

Intimate partner violence is not caused by a single factor. Instead, a combination of factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels can increase or decrease the risk of violence.

Risk factors are characteristics that may increase the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating intimate partner violence. However, they may or may not be direct causes.

Protective factors are characteristics that may decrease the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating intimate partner violence.

Understanding and addressing risk and protective factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

Watch the Moving Forward video to learn more about how increasing what protects people from violence and reducing what puts people at risk for it benefits everyone.

Risk factors for perpetration

Individual risk factors

  • Low self-esteem.1
  • Low education or income.2
  • Young age.23
  • Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth.3
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use.23
  • Depression and suicide attempts.23
  • Anger and hostility.23
  • Lack of nonviolent social problem-solving skills.4
  • Antisocial personality traits and conduct problems.3
  • Poor behavioral control and impulsiveness.5
  • Traits associated with borderline personality disorder.1
  • History of being physically abusive.23
  • Having few friends and being isolated from other people.1
  • Economic stress (e.g., unemployment).26
  • Emotional dependence and insecurity.1
  • Belief in strict gender roles (e.g., male dominance and aggression in relationships).23
  • Desire for power and control in relationships.7
  • Hostility towards women.1
  • Attitudes accepting or justifying violence and aggression.23
  • History of physical or emotional abuse in childhood.123

Relationship risk factors

  • Relationship conflicts including jealousy, possessiveness, tension, divorce, or separations.138
  • Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other.6
  • Families experiencing economic stress.1
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions.3
  • Association with antisocial and aggressive peers.13
  • Parents with less than a high school education.9
  • Witnessing violence between parents as a child.13
  • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child.13
  • History of experiencing physical discipline as a child.3

Community risk factors

  • Communities with high rates of poverty and limited educational and economic opportunities.1
  • Communities with high unemployment rates.1
  • Communities with high rates of violence and crime.1
  • Communities where neighbors don't know or look out for each other and there is low community involvement among residents.1
  • Communities with easy access to drugs and alcohol.10
  • Weak community sanctions against intimate partner violence (e.g., unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence).1

Societal risk factors

  • Traditional gender norms and gender inequality (e.g., the idea women should stay at home, not enter the workforce, and be submissive; men should support the family and make the decisions).611
  • Cultural norms that support aggression toward others.11
  • Societal income inequality.12
  • Weak health, educational, economic, and social policies or laws.11

Protective factors for perpetration

Relationship protective factors

  • Strong social support networks and stable, positive relationships with others.1

Community protective factors

  • Neighborhood collective efficacy, meaning residents feel connected to each other and are involved in the community.1
  • Coordination of resources and services among community agencies.1314
  • Communities with access to safe, stable housing.1516
  • Communities with access to medical care and mental health services.17
  • Communities with access to economic and financial help.61819
  1. Capaldi, D. M., Knoble, N. B., Shortt, J. W., & Kim, H. K. (2012). A systematic review of risk factors for intimate partner violence. Partner Abuse, 3(2), 231-80.
  2. Stith, S. M., Smith, D. B., Penn, C. E., Ward, D. B., & Tritt, D. (2004). Intimate partner physical abuse perpetration and victimization risk factors: a meta-analytic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10(1), 65-98.
  3. Vagi, K. J., Rothman, E. F., Latzman, N. E., Tharp, A. T., Hall, D. M., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). Beyond correlates: a review of risk and protective factors for adolescent dating violence perpetration. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(4), 633-649.
  4. Malhi N, Oliffe JL, Bungay V, Kelly MT. Male Perpetration of Adolescent Dating Violence: A Scoping Review. Am J Mens Health. 2020 Sep-Oct;14(5):1557988320963600. doi: 10.1177/1557988320963600. PMID: 33045903; PMCID: PMC7557791.
  5. Pinto LA, Sullivan EL, Rosenbaum A, Wyngarden N, Umhau JC, Miller MW, Taft CT. Biological correlates of intimate partner violence perpetration. Aggression and violent behavior. 2010 Sep 1;15(5):387-98.
  6. Matjasko, J. L., Niolon, P. H., & Valle, L. A. (2013). The role of economic factors and economic support in preventing and escaping from intimate partner violence. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(1), 122- 128.
  7. McCarthy KJ, Mehta R, Haberland NA (2018) Gender, power, and violence: A systematic review of measures and their association with male perpetration of IPV. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0207091. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207091external icon
  8. Pichon M, Treves-Kagan S, Stern E, Kyegombe N, Stöckl H, Buller AM. A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review: Infidelity, Romantic Jealousy and Intimate Partner Violence against Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Aug 6;17(16):5682. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17165682. PMID: 32781565; PMCID: PMC7459695.
  9. Fang X, Corso PS. Gender differences in the connections between violence experienced as a child and perpetration of intimate partner violence in young adulthood. Journal of Family Violence. 2008 Jul;23(5):303-13
  10. Kearns, M. C., Reidy, D. E., & Valle, L. A. (2015). The role of alcohol policies in preventing intimate partner violence: a review of the literature. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76(1), 21-30.
  11. Heise LL, Kotsadam A. Cross-national and multilevel correlates of partner violence: an analysis of data from population-based surveys. The Lancet Global Health. 2015 Jun 1;3(6):e332-40.
  12. Khalifeh H, Hargreaves J, Howard LM, Birdthistle I. Intimate partner violence and socioeconomic deprivation in England: findings from a national cross-sectional survey. American journal of public health. 2013 Mar;103(3):462-72.
  13. Johnson L, Stylianou AM. Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. September 2020. doi:10.1177/1524838020957984
  14. Post LA, Klevens J, Maxwell CD, Shelley GA, Ingram E. An examination of whether coordinated community responses affect intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2010 Jan;25(1):75-93.
  15. Baker, C. K., Billhardt, K. A., Warren, J., Rollins, C., & Glass, N. E. (2010). Domestic violence, housing instability, and homelessness: a review of housing policies and program practices for meeting the needs of survivors. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2010), 430–439.
  16. Klein LB, Chesworth BR, Howland-Myers JR, Rizo CF, Macy RJ. Housing Interventions for Intimate Partner Violence Survivors: A Systematic Review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2021;22(2):249-264. doi:10.1177/1524838019836284
  17. Mariscal TL, Hughes CM, Modrek S. Changes in incidents and payment methods for intimate partner violence related injuries in women residing in the United States, 2002 to 2015. Women's health issues. 2020 Sep 1;30(5):338-44.
  18. Spencer RA, Livingston MD, Woods-Jaeger B, Rentmeester ST, Sroczynski N, Komro KA. The impact of temporary assistance for needy families, minimum wage, and Earned Income Tax Credit on Women's well-being and intimate partner violence victimization. Social Science & Medicine. 2020 Dec 1;266:113355.
  19. Pronyk PM, Hargreaves JR, Kim JC, Morison LA, Phetla G, Watts C, Busza J, Porter JD. Effect of a structural intervention for the prevention of intimate-partner violence and HIV in rural South Africa: a cluster randomized trial. The lancet. 2006 Dec 2;368(9551):1973-83.