Measurement and Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence among Expectant First-Time Parents

Article excerpt

Research on the implications of varying measurement strategies for estimating levels and correlates of intimate partner violence (IPV) has been limited. This study explored measurement and correlates of IPV using a community sample of 168 couples who were expecting their first child. In line with prior research, couple agreement regarding the presence of violence was low, and maximum reported estimates revealed substantial IPV perpetrated by both expectant mothers and fathers. Different types of IPV scores predicted unique variance in mental health problems and couple relationship distress among both the whole sample and the subsamples who perpetrated any violence. Discussion focuses on the methodological and substantive implications of these findings for the study of IPV during the transition to parenthood.

Keywords : intimate partner violence ; measurement ; transition to parenthood ; violence correlates

The transition to parenthood brings joy as well as new challenges to couple relationships ( Cowan & Cowan, 1995 ; Feinberg, 2002 ), and cumulative stressors during this time may increase the likelihood of intimate partner violence (IPV; Jasinski, 2004 ). Violence during pregnancy poses physical risks to the mother and developing fetus ( Jasinski, 2004 ). Moreover, both prenatal and postnatal violence can have negative implications for parenting, coparenting, and child development ( Anderson & Cramer-Benjamin, 1999 ; Katz & Low, 2004 ). Thus, a thorough understanding of the risk factors associated with IPV prior to the transition to parenthood may help to inform prevention efforts. This is an important research direction because the prevention of violence before a child is born could have a positive impact on couple well-being and child outcomes over time ( Cowan & Cowan, 1995 ; Feinberg, 2002 ).

Unfortunately, several challenges have impeded progress in understanding not only the factors associated with prenatal IPV, but also the level of IPV in the general population. First, studies of IPV among expectant parents have often employed selected high-risk samples, and most of these studies have relied on women's reports of victimization. In addition, studies have found that partners often do not agree about the extent of violence in their relationship, and variations in how IPV is measured may lead to discrepancies in reported rates of violence and associations of potential risk factors. Thus, this study had two goals: (1) to examine the prevalence, frequency, and severity of IPV perpetrated by men and women in a community sample of expectant couples; and (2) to examine the extent to which different strategies for measuring IPV are uniquely associated with selected correlates, namely mental health problems and couple relationship distress.

Levels of Violence Among Expectant Parents

Some studies of pregnant women have shown substantial rates of IPV, yet other studies have reported much lower rates. Estimates of rates of violent victimization in the year prior to birth, including during pregnancy, have ranged from 1% to 34% ( Cokkinides & Coker, 1998 ; Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, & Bogat, 2002 ; Jasinski, 2004 ; Martin, Mackie, Kupper, Buescher, & Moracco, 2001 ; Reichenheim & Moraes, 2004 ; Sagrestano, Carroll, Rodriguez, & Nuwayhid, 2004 ). Variation in these rates is likely a result of different samples, measures, and criteria for determining whether violence has occurred ( Jasinski, 2004 ). Unfortunately, most previous research has provided an incomplete picture of IPV among expectant couples because it has focused on women's reports of victimization. Johnson (1995) proposes that there is a distinction between "common couple violence," which is mutually perpetrated in the context of conflict that gets out of hand, versus "intimate terrorism," which is systematically perpetrated by men for the purpose of controlling women. Given that common couple violence is likely to be the more prevalent type in the general population, a complete picture of IPV during the transition to parenthood would include reports of both perpetration and victimization. …