FL: Domestic ViolencePage 4 of 9

2. Risk and Protective Factors for IPV

People with certain risk factors are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of IPV. Those risk factors contribute to IPV but might not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as “at risk” becomes involved in violence.

Some risk factors for IPV victimization and perpetration are the same, while others are associated with one another. For example, childhood physical or sexual victimization is a risk factor for future IPV perpetration and victimization.

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming an IPV victim or perpetrator. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention (CDC, 2015b).

Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence

Individual factors

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low income
  • Low academic achievement
  • Young age
  • Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use
  • Depression
  • Anger and hostility
  • Antisocial personality traits
  • Borderline personality traits
  • Prior history of being physically abusive
  • Having few friends and being isolated from other people
  • Unemployment
  • Emotional dependence and insecurity
  • Belief in strict gender roles (e.g., male dominance and aggression in relationships)
  • Desire for power and control in relationships
  • Perpetrating psychological aggression
  • Being a victim of physical or psychological abuse (consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration)
  • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
  • History of experiencing physical discipline as a child

Relationship factors

  • Marital conflict—fights, tension, and other struggles
  • Marital instability—divorces or separations
  • Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other
  • Economic stress
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions

Community factors

  • Poverty and associated factors (eg, overcrowding)
  • Low social capital—lack of institutions, relationships, and norms that shape a community’s social interactions
  • Weak community sanctions against IPV (eg, unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence)

Societal factors

  • Traditional gender norms (eg, women should stay at home, not enter workforce, and be submissive; men support the family and make the decisions) (CDC, 2015b)

The National Violence Against Women Survey found that married women who lived apart from their husbands were nearly 4 times more likely to report that their husbands had raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked them than were women who lived with their husbands (20% and 5.4%). Similarly, married men who lived apart from their wives were nearly 3 times more likely to report that their wives had victimized them than were men who lived with their wives (7.0% and 2.4%) (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).

These findings suggest that termination of a relationship poses an increased risk of IPV for both women and men. However, it should be noted that the survey data do not indicate whether the violence happened before, after, or at the time the couple separated. Thus, it is unclear whether the separation triggered the violence or the violence triggered the separation (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).

The WHO population survey investigated which factors might protect a woman from IPV and which factors put her at greater risk. As in other studies, this survey looked at individual and partner factors as well as factors related to the woman’s immediate social context (WHO, 2005).

The survey found that in all but two settings (Japan and Ethiopia), younger women (aged 15 to 19 years) were at higher risk for physical or sexual abuse within the last 12 months. In all but two settings (Bangladesh and Ethiopia), women who had been separated or divorced reported much more partner violence during their lifetime than currently married women. Higher education was associated with less violence in many settings (WHO, 2005).