Understanding Violence in Intimate Relationships
Suzanne Swan, Ph.D.,Associate Research Scientist in Psychiatry
Dr. Swan’s study examined the conditions under which women use violence in domestic relationships. Evidence suggests women become violent in intimate partner conflict as a mechanism for self-defense or out of fear, and as a response to violence perpetrated against them. However, such action often results in more violent retaliation. Dr. Swan’s investigation was designed to identify patterns of violence in order to develop and implement domestic violence intervention and prevention programs for women.
Highlighted Study Findings
Most research on the perpetration of intimate aggression has focused on male violence, which is the primary cause of women's injury-related emergency room visits. However, the outcomes of women's use of violence in intimate relationships are not well understood. There are a number of compelling reasons from the standpoint of women's health to focus on women's violent behavior, as well as their victimization. First, although women (particularly young women) respond to their partner's abuse with violence, this strategy appears to be a risk factor for increased and more severe violence against them by their male partners. Second, women's motives for aggression against intimate partners may differ from men's motives. Some evidence suggests that women's violence stems primarily from self-defense, fear, and retaliation for violence perpetrated against them. Third, women who use violence appear to have a disproportionately high incidence of childhood and adult trauma. A principal finding of this study is that women’s violence almost always occurs in the context of male violence against them. In addition, the types and frequencies of abuse that women use differ from men. When compared to their male counterparts, women were more often victims of more serious types of abuse, including sexual coercion and injury, while women used equivalent levels of emotional abuse and more moderate levels of physical violence against their partners. Data from this study were used to examine predictors and correlates of women’s violence in ongoing treatment interventions for the purpose of reducing and preventing violent interactions.