In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Criminological Perspectives on Intimate Partner Violence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Antiviolence Laws, Institutes, and Organizations
  • Defining IPV
  • Issues with the Measurement of IPV
  • Causes of IPV
  • IPV Typologies
  • Reactions in Targets of IPV
  • Non-Marital IPV
  • Criminal Justice and Health System Response
  • The Shelter Movement, Offender Treatment Programs, and Information Services
  • Education and Prevention

Criminology Criminological Perspectives on Intimate Partner Violence
Kathryn M. Ryan, Irene Hanson Frieze
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0218


The study of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) developed in the late 20th century and includes work relating to the topics of battered women, spouse abuse, marital violence, and dating violence. The history of IPV theory and research shows deep-seated controversies. Along with examining physical and psychological violence in heterosexual relationships, IPV also encompasses violence within same-sex adolescent and adult romantic relationships. A major debate within the field concerns the question of whether women are as violent as men within these relationships. The answer to this question appears to depend on how violence is defined and measured. A number of theories have been proposed to understand why IPV occurs, although many potential causes are still debated. In addition, research strongly supports the possibility that there are different types of batterers. Empirical research and clinical reports indicate that those victimized by IPV have a wide range of reactions, ranging from acceptance to fighting back or leaving the partner. Symptoms depend on the level of violence and are similar to those associated with high levels of trauma. Finally, there are several systemic approaches to the treatment and prevention of IPV. Treatment often involves the criminal justice system and includes the protection of victims (e.g., shelters, restraining orders, and mandated treatment for batterers). Major funding for system efforts in the United States comes from the Violence against Women Act (which was renewed in 2013). Prevention efforts are frequently focused on younger individuals.

General Overviews

The readings in this section include basic readings that describe the nature of IPV and identify some of the major issues and controversies in the field. One controversy is whether there is gender equity in the amount, purpose, and consequence of the violence. This influences several interrelated issues covered in this article: Defining IPV, Issues with the Measurement of IPV, and preferred treatments for victims and perpetrators of IPV (Criminal Justice and Health System Response, and the Shelter Movement, Offender Treatment Programs, and Information Services). Some argue that IPV is primarily violence against women by their male partners. This is the feminist approach to IPV. They support this contention with data from a variety of sources including criminal records, emergency room visits, domestic violence shelters, and self-reported outcomes such as injury and fear. The feminist approach is seen in Dobash, et al. 1992 and in the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCDV), which is also discussed in the section the Shelter Movement, Offender Treatment Programs, and Information Services. Both assume that IPV is primarily violence against women. The website for the NCDV lists control issues as an important indicator of IPV. It describes the dynamics of abuse, the characteristics of abusers, and potential red flags. In contrast, works such as Steinmetz 1977 argue that IPV includes violence against men by their female partners. And, some contend that IPV is widespread, bi-directional, and low-level. This social science approach is best represented by Straus 2010 and is supported in numerous studies. Frieze 2005 describes both the feminist and social science approach in an effort to educate the general public about the nature and dynamics of IPV. Sokoloff and Pratt 2005 argues for greater attention to issues of diversity, such as social class and race. Asay, et al. 2013 presents research reflecting the global nature and multifaceted determinants of IPV. Mallory, et al. 2016 finds both similar and different risk markers for IPV in men from the United States compared with those in other individualistic cultures and those in collectivist cultures. Finally, Buzawa, et al. 2012 presents a thorough review of IPV issues in the criminal justice system, with a focus on research and policy concerning the law, the courts, and the police.

  • Asay, Sylvia M., John DeFrain, Marcee Metzger, and Bob Moyer, eds. 2013. Family violence from a global perspective: A strengths-based approach: A strengths-based approach. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Notes that family violence exists in all sixteen countries included in the book, though some level of denial is present in most countries. Gender inequities contribute to IPV. Different countries and cultures have different strengths in confronting IPV. Several potential solutions are presented.

  • Buzawa, Eve S., Carl G. Buzawa, and Evan Stark. 2012. Responding to domestic violence: The integration of criminal justice and human services. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    This is a good general overview for criminal justice students. Notes that there is a reliance on criminal justice responses to IPV. They outline the history, definition, and scope of IPV. They discuss arrest, criminal and civil prosecution, the law, batterer intervention programs, health system responses, and child welfare.

  • Dobash, Russell P., R. Emerson Dobash, Margo Wilson, and Martin Daly. 1992. The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems 39.1: 71–91.

    This is a critique of research using the CTS, citing issues with reliability and validity, problems with item interpretation and an absence of theory. They suggest that a large body of research using injury rates, police records, crime victim surveys, and other agencies support the asymmetry of IPV.

  • Frieze, Irene Hanson. 2005. Hurting the one you love: Violence in relationships. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Overview of theory and empirical research relating to IPV, as well as other forms of family violence. This book discusses the controversies in the field, noting that definitions of violence and selection of the sample for research may account for the differing views about IPV.

  • Mallory, Allen B., Prerana Dharnidharka, Sharon L. Deitz, et al. 2016. A meta-analysis of cross cultural risk markers for intimate partner violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior: PsycINFO, EBSCOhost.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2016.08.004

    Research on male-female IPV in collectivist cultures was compared with research in the United States and in other individualistic countries. Eleven risk markers were explored. Most were significant. Results showed that youth was a greater risk in the United States and that witnessing parental violence was a greater risk in collectivist cultures.

  • National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCDV).

    Arose from the US Commission on Civil Rights (see Reference Works). It is the “voice of victims and survivors” and influences public policy, public awareness, and education. Provides statistics, webinars, a speaker’s bureau, and a memory wall.

  • Sokoloff, Natalie J., and Christina Pratt. 2005. Domestic violence at the margins: Readings on race, class, gender, and culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    This collection of articles focuses on the diversity of IPV experienced in the United States. It takes a feminist approach and explores intersectionality, with a focus on race and social class. It also includes articles on sexuality, ethnicity, immigration, and culture.

  • Steinmetz, Suzanne K. 1977. The battered husband syndrome. Victimology 2.3–4: 499–509.

    In this analysis of popular media, Steinmetz argues that male victims of female violence have been ignored in much of the literature and notes examples of this in media such as comic strips.

  • Straus, Murray A. 2010. Thirty years of denying the evidence on gender symmetry in partner violence: Implications for prevention and treatment. Partner Abuse 1.3: 332–362.

    DOI: 10.1891/1946-6560.1.3.332

    Straus discusses over two hundred studies using the Conflict Tactics Scale that demonstrated that most IPV is equivalent and mutual. Nevertheless, Straus does note that greater adverse effects are experienced by women. Straus suggests that the unwillingness to acknowledge gender symmetry in research encumbers efforts to prevent and treat IPV.

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