Intimate Partner Violence: Synopsis of Five Research Reports

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As writers we are both part of society and observers and commentators on human behavior in all forms. 

In the fiction, non-fiction, film or television we write it's our opportunity or perhaps even obligation to highlight what we see whether good, bad or funny.  

Below are synopses of five recently published studies about Intimate Partner Violence.  The reports follow: 

Violence against Women at Epidemic Proportions

Three in ten women worldwide have been punched, shoved, dragged, threatened with weapons, raped, or subjected to other violence from a current or former partner. Close to one in ten have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. Of women who are murdered, more than one in three were killed by an intimate partner.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call. We want to highlight that this is a problem that occurs in all regions and it’s unacceptably high,” says Claudia García-Moreno, a physician at the World Health Organization (WHO) who coordinates research on gender violence and worked on all the publications.
According to a WHO report, 42% of women who experienced violence were physically injured by their partners. 
But violence harms women in ways beyond injury. 
  • Violent partners may prevent women from visiting health clinics or from accessing medicine or contraception. 
  • Women who experienced violence from a partner are more likely to be infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, to have an abortion, to give birth to underweight and premature babies, and to attempt suicide. 
  • They are also more likely to use alcohol and are twice as likely to experience depression — factors which can be both cause of and be caused by a partner's violence. 
  • In addition, the authors point out, raised stress levels are implicated in a range of health problems, including chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
As recently as 15 or 20 years ago, she says, governments generally considered domestic violence as something that was private and inevitable — something that governments could do little to address, says Rachel Jewkes, head of the South African Medical Research Council in Pretoria. Having global figures puts violence on the radar of “global bodies that are looking for one number to show that violence is an issue”.

Global variation
According to these studies of over 25,000 case histories world-wide, the highest rates of partner violence, estimated between 54% and 78%, were found in central sub-Saharan Africa, but even high-income regions in Asia, North America and western Europe had rates above 15%. These jump considerably when sexual non-partner violence is factored in.

The studies did not assess emotional violence, and though estimates did not consider partners’ gender, most research studies solicited information only on male partners. In addition, many homicide reports do not include information about perpetrators’ relationships to their victims.
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Are men always perpetrators 
and women always victims?

An analysis of data on relationship violence in the general population by psychologist John Archer of England's University of Central Lancashire finds that, excluding murder and sexual assaults, 
  • women prove slightly more likely than men to commit one or more aggressive acts against a partner. Still, the data show that 
  • men are more likely than women to inflict injuries that require medical help.
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Mandatory Domestic-violence Arrest 
Causes 98% Increase in Death Rate of Victims

Researchers followed up on a landmark domestic violence arrest experiment and found that African-American victims who had partners arrested rather than warned were twice as likely to die young.  The research from a major 'randomized' arrest experiment 23 years ago finds that domestic violence victims whose partners were arrested on misdemeanor charges -- mostly without causing injury -- were 64% more likely to have died early, compared to victims whose partners were warned but not removed by police.

Arrest increases early mortality by a staggering 98%
Among African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by a staggering 98% -- as opposed to white victims, whose mortality was increased from arrest by just 9%. The research also found that employed victims suffered the worst effects of their partners' arrests. Employed black victims with arrested partners suffered a death rate over four times higher than those whose partner received a warning at the scene. No such link was found in white victims.

The study's authors say that causes are currently unknown but such health impacts are consistent with chronic stress that could have been amplified by partner arrest. They call for a "robust review" of US and UK mandatory arrest policies in domestic violence cases.

"It remains to be seen whether democracies can accept these facts as they are, rather than as we might wish them to be," said Professor Lawrence Sherman from Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology, who authored the study with his colleague Heather M. Harris from University of Maryland.

The findings will be announced in the US on Monday 3rd March in Milwaukee and College Park, Maryland, and presented on Wednesday in London at the winter meeting of the Society of Evidence-Based Policing. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, who supported the follow-up study, will join in the presentation and discussion of the results. The study will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Experimental Criminology.

The vast majority of victim deaths following the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment were not murders, accidents or suicides. The victims died from common causes of death such as heart disease, cancer and other internal illnesses.

Previous studies have shown post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) to be prevalent in victims of domestic violence, and that low but chronic PTSS has been linked to premature death from coronary heart disease and other health problems. The authors observed that the impact of seeing a partner arrested could create a traumatic event for the victim, one that raises their risk of death. An arrest may cause more trauma in concentrated black poverty areas than in white working-class neighbourhoods, for reasons not yet understood.

The exact cause of these surprising results still remains a 'medical mystery,' the study's authors say. But, whatever the explanation, the harmful effects of mandatory arrest poses a challenge to policies that have "been on the books" in most US states and across the UK for decades, they say.

"The evidence shows that black women are dying at a much higher rate than white women from a policy that was intended to protect all victims of domestic violence, regardless of race," said Sherman. "It is now clear that a pro-arrest policy has failed to protect victims, and that a robust review of these policies is urgently needed."

"Because all the victims had an equal chance of having their partners arrested by random assignment, there is no other likely explanation for this difference except that it was caused by seeing their partners arrested."

The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment took place between 1987 and 1988, with support from the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the US Department of Justice. Sherman, who led the study from the University of Maryland, described it as "arguably the most rigorous test ever conducted of the effects of arrest."

The experiment enrolled 1,125 victims of domestic violence whose average age was 30 years. Each case was the subject of an equal probability 'lottery' of random assignment. Two-thirds of the suspects were arrested with immediate jailing. One-third received a warning at the scene with no arrest. In 2012-13, Sherman and Harris searched state and national records for the names of every one of the victims.

The record search showed that a total of 91 victims had died. Of these, 70 had been in the group whose partners were arrested, compared to 21 whose partners had been warned. This translated into 93 deaths per 1,000 victims in the arrest group, versus 57 deaths per 1000 in the warning group. For the 791 black victims (who were 70% of the sample), the rates were 98 per 1,000 for arrest, versus 50 per 1,000 for the warned group.

"These differences are too large to be due to chance," Sherman said. "They are also too large to be ignored."
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Intimate partner violence in 
men who have sex with men 
linked to adverse health effects

Intimate partner violence (IPV) among men who have sex with men (MSM) is linked to greater risk of mental and physical health symptoms, substance misuse, and sexually transmitted infections, according to a research article published in the online journal, PLOS Medicine. The study, led by Ana Maria Buller and Loraine Bacchus from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK, working with experts from King's College London, identified associations with negative health indicators for both victims and perpetrators of IPV among MSM.

The authors reviewed 19 published studies about IPV and various health conditions or sexual risk behaviors among MSM. Taken together, the studies suggest that the lifetime rate of exposure to physical, emotional, or sexual IPV among MSM was 48%. 

Exposure to IPV was associated with 
  • an increased risk of alcohol or drug use, 
  • self-report of depressive symptoms, 
  • being HIV positive, and 
  • engagement in unprotected sex. 
  • Perpetration of intimate partner violence was associated with an increased risk of substance abuse.
NOTE: A number of factors limit the conclusiveness of these findings, including the small number of studies, variability among the included studies, and that the health and violence exposure measures were self-reported and relied on recall.
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Higher status than one's partner 
makes both men, women vulnerable
 to intimate partner violence

Having a higher income or education than your partner could be risky, as a higher socio-economic status than ones partner increases the chance of psychological violence and abuse. This applies to both men and women.

New research on violence and relationships does not support the stereotypical pattern of strong men in powerful positions who abuse their weaker, female partner.
"Whenever power is unevenly allocated in a relationship the chance of physical and psychological abuse increases. And the abused partner is the one with the highest status," says sociologist Heidi Fischer Bjelland.
According to Bjelland this applies both to men and women.  Bjelland is a PhD student at The Norwegian Police University College and she has previously carried out research on intimate partner violence in Norway. 

Bjelland has examined survey replies from 1640 men and 1791 women who live with their partners. The participants have answered questions relating to whether they have experienced physical partner violence such as strangling and flat hand slapping, and psychological abuse such as threats of physical violence, jealous behavior and freedom restriction.

Women more exposed
Both men and women with a higher status than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing psychological abuse or controlling partners, but women with a higher income than their partner also have an increased risk of experiencing physical abuse:
  • "Their risk of experiencing both physical and psychological violence increases with the difference in income," says Bjelland.
The figures show
  • Women earning more than 67 per cent of the total household income have an almost seven times bigger risk of experiencing psychological and physical abuse -- so-called double violence -- from their partner compared to women who earn less than 33 per cent of the total household income. 
  • Women with considerably higher education than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing both physical and psychological abuse.
The study challenges previous research which has concluded that a high socio-economic status decreases the risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.  "My study shows that high income or education works as protection against acts of violence only as far as the income and education does not exceed that of the partner," says Bjelland.

"There seem to be two mechanisms at play here: one relating to the individual and another to the relationship as such."

Men also affected
The study shows that men with a higher income or education than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing psychological abuse and control. However, men do not face the same risk of experiencing physical abuse.

"Previous studies have looked primarily at physical abuse. They have also included some types of psychological violence such as control and threats of physical violence, but they have not distinguished these psychological acts of violence as a category in itself. When I distinguish between psychological and physical acts of violence, the psychological factor is becoming much clearer and the results become more nuanced," says the researcher.

One of the finds particularly surprised Bjelland:
"The fact that men with a higher socio-economic status than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing abuse in their relationships was very surprising, since it conflicts with international studies within the same field."
She emphasizes the Norwegian gender equality as a possible explanation.  "Perhaps this indicates that, in today's Norway, women won't accept being without power as a result of having a lower socio-economic status than their partner."

Power and contrapower
Bjelland's study shows the abuse primarily affects the person in the relationship with the most power defining resources such as income and education. This applies to both men and women.
"This implies that intimate partner violence may be all about trying to change the power balance," claims the sociologist.

She believes that much of the intimate partner violence is a type of contrapower strategy towards a stronger partner.  "Violence or control is used as a compensation for the partner's weak position in the relationship, and may thus be regarded as an attempt to balance what is perceived as an uneven division of power."

"Perhaps the abuse in some cases has to do with an unconscious fear of losing a partner which is more attractive "on the market" due to his or her socio-economic status."

Jealousy or traditional gender roles?
The most frequent type of psychological abuse or partner violence in the survey had to do with the partner wanting to know where the other part is, who they're with and when they're due back home. The second most common type was jealous behavior and attempts to restrict the other part's social interaction with friends and family.

"It is not uncommon to want to know where one's partner is and when he or she might be home; when does this become psychological violence? There is no clear answer to that. But this does not have to do with everyday random questions about where someone has been. When the interviewees describe their partners as being inquisitive regarding these things, it is reasonable to assume that it is a type of violation and an attempt to restrict the partner's freedom," says Bjelland.

Different mechanisms generate different types of violence. Bjelland regards jealousy, the fear of losing one's partner and contrapower strategies as possible explanations to much of the psychological power abuse and control in relationships.

According to Bjelland, another explanation may be stress and frustration related to society's views on masculinity and femininity, and the feeling of not being able to live up to expectations related to traditional gender roles.

This has been described in previous research on violence, and Bjelland points to this as one possible explanation to the double violence which women are more exposed to if they have higher status than their partner.

"Men with lower status than their partner may feel that they are not living up to the traditional gender role. This may cause stress and frustration which again may lead to escalating conflicts  which end in physical violence towards their partner," says Bjelland.

Not a conscious strategy
Bjelland believes that the physical violence in many of these cases revolves around situational conflicts and outbursts caused by anger and frustration rather than conscious power strategies.

"In these situations I presume that men relate to traditional gender role norms, but I wish to emphasize that this analysis does not necessarily apply to all men on an individual basis."

"The connection between power, gender and violence is very complex, and there are several mechanisms at play. Contrapower strategies, for instance, do not apply so much to relationships practicing traditional gender roles."

One of the finds in the study is that women with the same status as their partner more often experience intimate partner violence than women with lower status. Bjelland believes this may indicate that also having the same status may be perceived by some as conflicting with traditional gender roles in relationships.

"This find should, on the other hand, be analysed with special care, since the data material is scarce," Bjelland underlines.
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Story Sources:
  1. Violence against Women at Epidemic Proportions, Multicountry analyses spotlight a dark problem, by Monya Baker, Nature magazine, Jun 20, 2013.
  2. Intimate violence gets female twist, by Bruce Bower, February 3, 2004; www.sciencenews.org
  3. Materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. University of Cambridge. "Mandatory arrest in domestic violence call-outs causes early death in victims." ScienceDaily
  4. Materials provided by PLOS. Ana Maria Buller, Karen M. Devries, Louise M. Howard, Loraine J. Bacchus. Associations between Intimate Partner Violence and Health among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS Medicine, 2014.
  5. Materials provided by KILDEN - Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway. The original article was written by Ingrid Wreden Kåss. KILDEN - Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway. "Higher status than one's partner makes both men, women vulnerable to intimate partner violence." ScienceDaily.  


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