Official Incidents of Domestic Violence: Types, Injury, and Associations with Nonofficial Couple Aggression

Article excerpt

Official police reports of intimate partner violence (IPV) were examined in a community sample of young, at-risk couples to determine the degree of mutuality and the relation between IPV arrests and aggression toward a partner (self-reported, partner reported, and observed). Arrests were predominantly of the men. Men were more likely to initiate physical contact, use physical force, and inflict injuries than women, although few injuries required medical attention. In the context of nonofficial aggression toward a partner, overall, women had higher levels of physical and psychological aggression compared to men, and levels of severe physical aggression did not differ by gender. Couples with an IPV arrest were more aggressive toward each other than couples with no IPV arrests; however, nonofficial levels of aggression were not higher for men than for women among couples experiencing an IPV incident.

Keywords: aggression; arrests; domestic violence; injury; police reports

There is substantial evidence from survey studies in the United States that as many or more women engage in some degree of violence toward a romantic partner as do men (e.g., for a meta-analysis, see Archer, 2000; Williams & Frieze, 2005). However, there is still controversy regarding this issue because women are more likely than men to be victims in domestic violence arrests (e.g., Melton & Belknap, 2003) and in crime surveys (e.g., Rennison, 2003). For example, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, married/cohabiting women self-reported higher rates of victimization in physical assault in the previous 12 months and lifetime compared to the men surveyed (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Despite such growing interest, understanding engagement of men and women in the perpetration of violence and their relative levels of violence in terms of severity and injury, as well as the degree of mutuality of violence in couples, is still limited.

Johnson (1995) posits that there are two distinct types of intimate partner violence (IPV): one involving patriarchal or intimate terrorism, hypothesized to be of high frequency and severe and one sided, with men usually as perpetrators, and the second involving the majority of couples and lower levels of violence, or "common couple violence," which is of low frequency, much less severe, perpetrated by men and women, and much less likely to result in injuries. The two types of violence are construed to be based on different motivations and interpersonal dynamics (Johnson, 1995). The evidence for such a distinct typology as well as the conceptual underpinnings have been questioned (Capaldi, Kim, & Shortt, 2007). Despite controversies, most experts would expect that arrests for IPV would involve a higher prevalence of men inflicting serious violence and more serious injuries than commonly found in survey studies (Duncan, Stayton, & Hall, 1999; Straus, 1997) for a variety of reasons, including possibly more severe violence by men (Johnson, 1995), men's greater size and weight (Felson, 1996), and arrest policies.

Critical information that could inform prevention and treatment programs is whether such arrests occur among couples that show a predominant pattern of one-sided violence or whether mutual violence seems more typical of such couples. Although arrests are a strong and objective measure of domestic violence, each arrest represents just one occasion of violence for that couple. For crime, in general, it is well known that arrests represent just the "tip of the iceberg" of actual crime. For example, in the case of youth delinquency, the ratio of police contacts to self-reported offenses has been estimated at around 3:100 to 10:100 (Elliott & Voss, 1974; Gold, 1966), and self-report measures and official records are considered to provide two alternative views on offending behavior (Farrington et al., 2003) that are related to different empirical findings but considered critical for understanding the phenomenon. …