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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Definitions of Intimate Partner Violence
  • IPV and Public Policy

Psychology Psychological Perspectives on Intimate Partner Violence
Laura Miller-Graff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 December 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0185


Intimate partner violence (IPV), which refers to acts or threats of physical, sexual, or psychological violence against a current or former partner, represents one of the greatest threats to the health and well-being of families and children worldwide. Although many of the psychological and physical ramifications of victimization by a violent partner are shared across contexts, it is critical to recognize that the cultural, social, and legal meanings and implications of victimization—and the access that survivors have to protection and support in the aftermath of violence—vary dramatically across contexts. Because of this, understanding the evolving history of IPV is necessarily context-specific, yet it is also important to recognize that there have been dramatic changes in policy in many nations since 2000 that have been motivated by growing awareness and advocacy. Examining contemporary research on IPV across contexts, a few summative points are evident. First, although the rates of bidirectional and male victimization vary across studies, women are generally victimized and injured at greater rates than are men—dramatically so in some contexts. The negative effects of IPV on mental health, physical health, and development are profound and long lasting. These negative effects are not only evident in women who are direct victims of IPV, but also “trickle down” intergenerationally, affecting the health and well-being of children, and there is strong evidence documenting serious and enduring effects of IPV on child witnesses. As discussed in more detail in the following sections, a substantial minority of IPV-exposed women have more than one violent partner in their lifetime, and these relationships often persist for years. Despite the wealth of research on the negative effects of IPV, intervention research is still in its nascency. There is relatively poor support for existing batterer intervention programs, especially those that are court-mandated and oriented toward identifying and changing stereotyped beliefs about gender relations. There is much stronger support for post-abuse care for survivors, with many available interventions demonstrating success in addressing depression and PTSD. Few of these interventions, however, have been evaluated outside of the global West. There is also little support for the effectiveness of programs with especially at-risk groups, such as IPV-exposed pregnant women. For child witnesses, several intervention programs are available, but it is not yet clear from existing research which are the most advantageous or what the primary agents of change within these programs are. This bibliographic review of the literature is designed to highlight contemporary research in the field of partner violence and discuss some of its key controversies. It should be noted, however, that a great proportion of the available research has taken place in Western countries. This is rapidly changing, however, and readers are encouraged to explore and update their searches regularly as new research emerges.

General Overviews

Although discussed in more detail throughout specific sections of this bibliography, there are several seminal works and reviews that highlight some of the core issues in the field of IPV research. Global data on partner violence is analyzed and presented in a World Health Organization report, Garciá-Moreno, et al. 2005; this document is easily accessible and is notable in the scope of the evaluation. Assessing intimate partner violence, however, is not without controversy, and a helpful articulation of contemporary debates and criticisms is well summarized in Hamby 2009. Jewkes 2002, alternatively, is a review of studies evaluating risk factors for IPV, focusing on many of the core theoretical assumptions that undergird the field, including the role of social inequalities, power dynamics, and gender. There are also several large-scale empirical studies on the effects of IPV on women’s health and functioning; although readers should refer to the section on Mental Health for journal articles on individual studies, a review of the physical effects of IPV is nicely summarized in Campbell 2002. A broader review of the effects of IPV on child witnesses can be found in Kitzmann, et al. 2003. Finally, there are several available reviews that provide overarching data on available interventions for perpetrators (Eckhardt, et al. 2013), survivors (Barner and Carney 2011) and child witnesses (Graham-Bermann and Levendosky 2011).

  • Barner, J. R., and M. M. Carney. 2011. Interventions for intimate partner violence: A historical review. Journal of Family Violence 26:235–244.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10896-011-9359-3E-mail Citation »

    This review article examines the historical influences on interventions for intimate partner violence. In its review of contemporary approaches, it focuses primarily on interventions with perpetrators, but its review of the history of interventions within the United States is useful in informing understanding about early influences on the field.

  • Campbell, J. C. 2002. Health consequences of intimate partner violence. The Lancet 359:1331–1335.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08336-8E-mail Citation »

    In this review, major studies and population surveys on physical health effects of IPV are helpfully indexed and tabled to document the consistency of results across studies.

  • Eckhardt, C. I., C. M. Murphy, D. J. Whitaker, J. Sprunger, R. Dykstra, and K. Woodard. 2013. The effectiveness of intervention program for perpetrators and victims of intimate partner violence. Partner Abuse 4:196–231.

    E-mail Citation »

    This review paper examines the effectiveness of intervention programs for both victims and perpetrators, indexing effectiveness within different types of intervention designs.

  • Garciá-Moreno, Claudia, Henrica A. F. M. Jansen, Mary Ellsberg, Lori Heise, and Charlotte Watts. 2005. WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women: Initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapters 1 and 2 of this report provide definitions, research design, and summative results from the World Health Organization international research study on the prevalence of violence against women.

  • Graham-Bermann, S. A., and A. A. Levendosky, eds. 2011. How intimate partner violence affects children: Developmental research, case studies, and evidence-based intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume indexes evidence-based treatments for child witnesses to IPV by developmental epoch, and includes research on the effects of IPV on children in that age range, reviews of treatment approaches, and clinical case studies.

  • Hamby, S. 2009. The gender debate about intimate partner violence: Solutions and dead ends. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 1:24–34.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0015066E-mail Citation »

    This article examines the debate on gender symmetry in partner violence in light of data on other types of violence perpetration. It considers directions forward in research and assessment based on a “moderate asymmetry” approach.

  • Jewkes, R. 2002. Intimate partner violence: Causes and prevention. The Lancet 359:1423–1429.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08357-5E-mail Citation »

    This review focuses on the factors and processes contributing to intimate partner violence; it focuses primarily on relationship and social processes related to power, masculinity, and gender norms.

  • Kitzmann, K. M., N. K. Gaylord, A. R. Holt, and E. D. Kenny. 2003. Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 71.2: 339.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.71.2.339E-mail Citation »

    This meta-analysis uniquely focuses on the unique effects associated with different types of exposure to IPV and also examines the effects of IPV exposure on PTSD relative to other forms of developmental maladjustment.

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