Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Physical and Mental Health Outcomes of Women in Nonviolent, Unilaterally Violent, and Mutually Violent Relationships

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Physical and Mental Health Outcomes of Women in Nonviolent, Unilaterally Violent, and Mutually Violent Relationships

Article excerpt

Despite equivocal findings on whether men or women are more violent, the negative impact of violence is greatest for women. To determine how gender asymmetry in perpetration affects women's health status, we conducted a study in two phases with 835 African American, Euro-American, and Mexican American low-income women in Project HOW: Health Outcomes of Women. In Phase 1, we used severity and frequency of women's and male partners' violence to create six groups: nonviolent (NV), uni-directional male (UM) perpetrator, uni-directional female (UF) perpetrator and, when both partners were violent, symmetrical (SYM), male primary perpetrator (MPP), and female primary perpetrator (FPP). The MPP group sustained the most threats, violence, sexual aggression, and psychological abuse. They also reported the most fear. Injury was highest in the MPP and FPP groups. In Phase 2, we examined group differences in women's health status over time for 535 participants, who completed five annual interviews. Surprisingly, women's health in the MPP and FPP violence groups was similar and generally worse than if violence was uni-directional.

Keywords: longitudinal; ethnicity; low-income women; partner violence

Much research shows that women are as likely as men to perpetrate intimate partner violence (IPV) (Anderson, 2002; Archer, 2000; Straus, Celles, & Steinmetz, 1980). However, women are more likely to be physically harmed than their male partners (Cascardi, Langhinrichsen, & Vivian, 1992; Hamberger, 1997; Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1994). This discrepancy between gender symmetry in perpetration and asymmetry in impact suggests women's violence is not equal to men's (Brush, 1990; Morse, 1995). Addressing this discrepancy by directly comparing effects of women's and men's IPV ignores the larger context. A more appropriate solution would be to compare the effects of bidirectional (mutual) IPV on women's injury and other physical and mental health outcomes to the effects of uni-directional IPV. We addressed these issues in two phases by first comparing patterns of violence in women's relationships cross-sectionally and longitudinally and then determining the ways these patterns relate to women's health.

Typically, the terms mutual violence and bidirectional violence have referred to violence perpetrated by both partners. These are reasonable terms when the discussion is conceptual and there is too little information to determine whether there is symmetry between the partners in their use of violence. As we have shown (Weston, Temple, & Marshall, in press), women's violence is not equal to men's, even when violence is female-dominated. Consequently, the terms mutuality and bidirectional violence are used conceptually and when the primary perpetrator cannot be identified with confidence. When possible, we use the terms male primary perpetrator (MPP) and female primary perpetrator (FPP) to describe asymmetrically violent relationships in which both partners are perpetrators.


Most early studies with police, shelter, or emergency room samples rarely measured violence perpetrated by women, focusing only on women as victims. The national survey by Straus and associates (1980) was one of few early exceptions. In contrast, studies of dating relationships (e.g., Marshall & Rose, 1990; White & Koss, 1991) often measured both perpetration and victimization. The proportions and correlations reported implied that a great many relationships were likely to be mutually violent. Over time, studies with various types of samples have assessed both male-to-female and female-to-male IPV. As this body of literature accumulated, it became clear that IPV was more likely to be perpetrated by both partners than by only one partner (e.g., Archer, 2000). One resulting trend was to report whether males or females were more likely to perpetrate violence. For example, the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000) found that 20% of women and 1% of men sustained IPV, suggesting that men are more likely to perpetrate violence. …

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