Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious problem that affects many individuals and crosses national borders, religions, gender, sexual orientation, racial, and ethnic groups (Harvey, Garcia-Moreno, & Butchart, 2007; Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, & Zwi, 2002). The World Health Organization has defined intimate partner violence as any behavior that inflicts harm on an intimate partner, such as a spouse, prior spouse, or partner. This harm can be physical, psychological, or sexual in nature and is inflicted through physical aggression, psychological abuse, sexual coercion, or other controlling behaviors (Krug et al., 2002). At times, the terms domestic violence and partner/spouse abuse are used interchangeably with the term intimate partner violence (Harvey et al., 2007).
Historically, intimate partner violence was seen as a matter to be dealt with in the home (Andrews & Khavinson, 2013); that is, it was largely considered a private issue between intimate partners. As such, little attention or support was extended toward victims of violence. The women’s rights movement during the 1970s brought many of the deleterious effects of IPV to the attention of the public. As a result, assistance became increasingly available for victims (Dugan, Nagin, & Rosenfeld, 2003). Some of the efforts to provide assistance to victims of IPV include mandatory arrest laws, victim advocacy, counseling services, shelters, and crisis hotlines.
Substantial efforts have been made to provide needed services to the victims of IPV, yet the exact rates of victimization are unknown. This is due to different research methodologies and operationalizations of IPV that are used across studies. For instance, there is some controversy as to whether IPV should be measured by acts of violence (e.g., hitting, choking) or the severity of injuries (e.g., bruises, broken bones). Complicating the issue is the fact that different sampling methods may yield different estimates of IPV. Research drawn from the general population, for instance, may uncover higher rates of less severe IPV, while purposive samples drawn from domestic violence shelters may yield higher rates of severe IPV (Johnson, 2008). Measurement challenges also occur because many individuals underreport or misrepresent their victimization. Thus, research that incorporates multiple study designs and sampling techniques, indicates that approximately 16% of adults in the United States experience IPV victimization each year (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Misra, Selwyn, & Rohling, 2012).
Social scientists have used a number of theories to better understand IPV. These theories include feminist theories, power theories, social learning theories, and personality theories. Research grounded in these theories has found many risk factors that are related to the likelihood of victimization and perpetration. Additionally, various risk factors for IPV perpetration and victimization have been identified, including individual (e.g., alcohol abuse, anger), historical (e.g., abuse as a child), and demographic (e.g., cohabitation, age) factors (Stith et al., 2000; Stith, Smith, Penn, Ward, & Tritt, 2004). Recently, behavioral scientists have begun to investigate the biological and genetic factors related to IPV perpetration (Barnes, TenEyck, Boutwell, & Beaver, 2013; Hines & Saudino, 2004). Because there are many short- and long-term negative effects of IPV victimization, scholars and advocates continue to explore new avenues to increase understanding of IPV perpetration and victimization to better assist victims and perpetrators. Currently, the main sources of help for victims of IPV include mandatory arrest laws, domestic violence shelters, crisis hotlines, civil protection orders, victim advocacy, treatment programs, and informal means of assistance. However, each of these resources has demonstrated varying degrees of effectiveness for increasing victim support and reducing repeated victimization.