ATrain Education


Continuing Education for Health Professionals

Kentucky: Domestic Violence

Module 7

Risk and Protective Factors for IPV

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of intimate violence. Risk factors are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as “at risk” becomes involved in violence.

Some risk factors are the same and some are associated with one another. For example, childhood physical or sexual victimization is a risk factor for both future perpetration and victimization. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

The termination of a relationship poses an increased risk for, or escalation of, intimate partner violence. This assumption is based on two types of evidence: divorced or separated women report more intimate partner violence than do married women. Also, interviews with men who have killed their wives indicate that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separation are most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).

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 intimate partner violence 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).

Adolescents are at increased risk for violence—from either their partner or from a family member. Women with HIV or AIDS are also at increased risk for violence (CDC, 2009).

Source: Heise & Garcia-Moreno, 2002.

Factors Associated with a Man’s Risk for Abusing His Partner

Individual factors

  • Young age
  • Heavy drinking
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Low academic achievement
  • Low income
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence as a child

Relationship factors

  • Marital conflict
  • Marital instability
  • Male dominance in the family
  • Economic stress
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions

Community factors

  • Poverty
  • Low social capital
  • Weak community sanctions against IPV

Societal factors

  • Traditional gender norms
  • Social norms supportive of violence

The World Health Organization population survey investigated which factors might protect a woman from intimate partner violence 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).

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