Academic journal article Violence and Victims

A Framework for Treating Partner Aggressive Women

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

A Framework for Treating Partner Aggressive Women

Article excerpt

Women are increasingly referred to intervention programs to address their use of physical violence against intimate partners. This article reviews the scant treatment outcome and attrition literature for partner aggressive women and describes important characteristics of partner aggressive women that must be taken into consideration in designing treatment. Recommended treatment modules are described in detail and include skill-building to enhance safety planning, conflict management, emotional regulation, communication and negotiation, and stress management. Additional modules should be included for some women based on individualized needs. These may include parenting skills and education and referral for treatment of conditions that undermine emotional stability, such as posttraumatic stress symptoms, substance abuse, and mood disorders. Treatment structure is outlined and pragmatic issues regarding the implementation of treatment are discussed. Interventions for partner aggressive woman must be designed to address women's victimization experiences as well as their perpetration.

Keywords: women; domestic violence; partner aggression; treatment intervention

Data has been available since the first National Family Violence Survey in 1975 (see Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980) indicating that many women engage in partner aggression. Large surveys of the general population show that each year approximately 12.4% of women are physically aggressive toward their partners, and 4.8% of women commit severe assaults (Straus & Gelles, 1990). Over the last decade, largely due to the advent of mandatory and dual-arrest laws (Martin, 1997), women have been charged with domestic assault and processed through legal systems in the United States in increasing numbers. These women deserve to benefit from diversionary intervention programs, as do adjudicated men. Completing diversion programs can result in reduced fines and reduced or dropped charges (Hamberger, 1997), and they provide an opportunity to address issues that underlie women's domestically violent behavior. However, due to the relative lack of research in this area, appropriate treatments are still under development. The main focus of this article will be describing treatment modules and modalities to consider when intervening with partner aggressive women.


Intervening with women who assault their partners is in the best interest of the women themselves, witnessing children, and male victims. Reducing women's aggression may actually result in fewer assaults against women, as suggested by longitudinal findings that women's use of physical aggression predicts later aggression against women by male partners (Feld & Straus, 1989; Murphy & O'Leary, 1989; Schumacher & Leonard, 2005). Reduction in women's aggression may also ultimately prevent injuries suffered by women, given that they are more likely to be injured in bidirectionally violent couples (Cascardi, Langhinrichsen, & Vivian, 1992).

Addressing women's violence is also important due to the negative effects of partner violence on witnessing children. Exposure to interparental aggression is associated with various problems in children including depression, anxiety, aggression, defiance, and poor social skills (Anderson & Cramer-Benjamin, 1999; McDonald, Jouriles, & Skopp, 2006) and it is a risk factor for later partner aggression perpetrated by the children themselves (Ehrensaft et al., 2003). Parents who engage in physically and verbally abusive behavior are modeling unhealthy relationship practices (Swan & Snow, 2003) and exposing their children to unnecessary and often extreme distress.

It is important to note that female partner aggression results in less severe and less frequent consequences for victims than partner aggression perpetrated by males. Female victims suffer more physical injuries and psychological distress, and they feel more threatened by their partners (Henning & Feder, 2004). …

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