Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Perpetrator or Victim? Relationships between Intimate Partner Violence and Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Perpetrator or Victim? Relationships between Intimate Partner Violence and Well-Being

Article excerpt

In national surveys, around half of intimate partner violence perpetrators are also victims of partner assaults. However, data on intimate partner violence victimization and perpetration are rarely examined together. This study examines the relationships between perpetration, victimization, and three psychosocial variables-depression, self-esteem, and substance abuse-that have been constructed in prior research as both causes and consequences of partner violence. Results indicate that associations between substance abuse and self-esteem and partner violence perpetration are mediated by controlling for victimization, but depression is associated with both victimization and perpetration. Associations between mutual violence and depression and substance abuse are greater among women than men, supporting the position that gender symmetry in reported violence perpetration does not imply symmetry in outcomes.

Key Words: depression, gender, intimate partner violence, self-esteem, substance abuse.

In national surveys, around half of domestic violence perpetrators report that they are also victims of partner assaults. Forty-nine percent of the respondents to the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey who self-reported perpetrating domestic violence also stated that they were victimized by their partners (Stets & Straus, 1990). Analyses of the National Surveys of Families and Households (NSFH), which included interviews with both partners in heterosexual marital and cohabiting relationships, find that around 64% of respondents who report perpetrating domestic assaults also report being victimized by violence (Umberson, Anderson, Glick, & Shapiro, 1998). However. researchers who examine partner violence with national survey data typically focus on either partner violence perpetration or victimization (e.g., Ellison & Anderson, 2001; Gelles & Straus, 1990; Kaufman Kantor & Straus, 1990a, 1990b; Pan, Neidig, & O'Leary, 1994; Stets, 1991; Straus, 1990a). This separation creates two types of problems for research on partner violence. First, it contributes to the problem of identifying causal order. Second, it masks the ways in which experiences of intimate partner violence may differ by gender and other social locations.


Researchers who use survey data to identify correlates of couple violence often note that they are unable to determine causality because they lack longitudinal data (Straus, 1990a; Umberson et al., 1998). A neglect of victimization data presents a similar, if less recognized, limitation. If researchers who use cross-sectional survey data conceptualize violence solely in terms of perpetration, they cannot determine whether identified correlates of violence (e.g., depression, social isolation, stress) should be conceptualized as causes or consequences of abuse.

The two major research traditions of sociological domestic violence scholarship, described by Johnson (1995) as the family violence and feminist traditions, have identified similar correlates of partner violence such as substance abuse, stress, and social isolation. However, the family violence tradition frames these correlates as precursors of abuse, and the feminist tradition explores them as consequences of victimization.

A large research literature in the family violence tradition has examined correlates of violence perpetration to identify risk factors for violence within families. Findings from national surveys and clinical studies indicate that violence perpetration is associated with high levels of stress and depression, low self-esteem, and drug or alcohol problems (Hamberger & Hastings, 1986; Kaufman Kantor & Straus, 1990a; Pan et al., 1994; Straus, 1990a). These studies suggest that intimate partner violence perpetration is, in part, a consequence of problems with stress, depression, or substance abuse. For example, Straus (1990a) notes that the association between stress and violence perpetration is greater for women than men in his study of National Family Violence Resurvey data and suggests that stress is a cause of domestic assault: "[the data] suggest that stress has more effect on violence by wives than on violence by husbands" (p. …

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