While a large body of research is devoted to risk factors for, and the impact of, intimate partner violence (IPV) victimization among women, considerably less is known concerning perpetrators of IPV and the risk factors across the life span that may lead them to enact violent behaviors against female partners. This essay presents a brief review of factors across the life span and across social contexts (i.e., individual, family, peer, community/society) that appear to place adolescent and adult men at risk for perpetrating IPV, and also those factors that appear to protect against IPV perpetration.
Like IPV victimization, perpetration of physical and sexual violence against intimate partners is found across all ages, incomes, and racial/ethnic backgrounds, but research shows that certain groups are at greater risk of IPV perpetration. The highest rate of IPV perpetration is found among men ages 18 to 35. Substance use in adolescence and adulthood is consistently associated with IPV perpetration, and increases the severity of abuse and risk of injury. Depression is a mental health concern consistently found to be more prevalent in men perpetrating IPV than in the general population, but no other mental health issue or personality traits have emerged as consistently, despite numerous studies that have investigated psychopathology among IPV perpetrators. Personal beliefs and attitudes that legitimize violence against women in relationships are also consistently found to be associated with IPV perpetration.
IPV perpetrators often perpetrate other forms of violence, including nonpartner violence. Notably, high rates of child abuse perpetration are consistently demonstrated among men who physically abuse the mothers of those children, and the risk of physical abuse of children is found to rise with the severity and frequency of partner violence. Suicide and suicidal intentions also often co-occur with IPV among men; perpetration of severe IPV has been associated with reported suicide attempts among adolescents, and a review of Massachusetts IPV homicides revealed that almost one third were accompanied by a perpetrator suicide or suicide attempt. Antisocial behaviors and violence (e.g., conduct problems, police contact, aggressive delinquency, and fighting with peers) have been found to be predictive of dating violence among adolescent boys.
The greatest attention regarding sources of risk for IPV perpetration has been devoted to the family of origin. The theory of intergenerational transmission (i.e., exposure to men’s partner violence in the home causes later battering behavior) has long been used to explain perpetration, but this single factor is not sufficiently explanatory, nor is it consistently supported by research findings. Rather, mixed evidence has emerged concerning the role of exposure to violence in the family on later IPV perpetration, suggesting the role of other social and developmental factors. Childhood maltreatment is one such predictor of IPV perpetration, and has been found to relate to abuse severity among perpetrators. Additional family-level factors for IPV perpetration include low family cohesion and adaptability, dysfunctional home environment, parental substance use, harsh parental discipline practices, and low parental monitoring.
Considerably less is known concerning protective influences at the family-of-origin level. Perceptions of family connectedness have been associated with lower levels of general violence among adolescents, as well as protective of other high-risk behaviors among adolescents, including suicide attempts and substance use, suggesting its role in protecting against IPV perpetration. However, this remains untested and little is known concerning other family-level factors that may reduce IPV perpetration even in the face of known risk factors.
While relationship factors such as marital discord may play a role in IPV, the literature indicates that IPV is not relationship specific (i.e., IPV perpetrators tend to serially abuse women throughout their adulthood). Further, risk for violence is greatest after separation.
Closely linked with individual attitudes and behaviors regarding IPV is the influence of peer context. Peer approval of IPV contributes to both personal attitudes sanctioning its use and actual IPV perpetration, as does hostile talk about women with peers. The actual behavior of peers also relates to IPV perpetration; peer deviance has been found to contribute to IPV perpetration in late adolescence, and adolescent and college males who report peer IPV perpetration are more likely to perpetrate IPV themselves. The potential protective role of peers regarding IPV perpetration has not been investigated.
Community And Societal Factors
Levels of social context beyond family and peers, including school and community-level factors, have received comparatively little attention regarding their relation to IPV perpetration.
Exposure to community violence has been linked to perpetration of both community violence and IPV among adolescents. At a broader level of societal influence, exposure to violent media has also been found to influence perpetration of aggressive behaviors, via posited mechanisms of viewers learning aggressive behaviors and attitudes as well as being desensitized to this violence. A recent longitudinal analysis indicated that childhood violent television exposure predicts both spousal abuse perpetration and general aggressive behavior among adult men. Similarly, exposure to pornography has been found to be associated with sexual aggression, with batterers’ use of pornography linked with women’s reports of violent sexual acts from such men as well as more severe levels of violence. Community connectedness may be protective against IPV perpetration; recent evidence indicates inverse associations of community connectedness with both IPV homicide and nonlethal IPV.
- Brook, J. S., Brook, D. W., & Whiteman, M. (2007). Growing up in a violent society: Longitudinal predictors of violence in Colombian adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 40(1–2), 82–95.
- Loeber, R., et al. (2005). The prediction of violence and homicide in young men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(6), 1074–1088.
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