Dating partners more violent and account for more domestic violence than spouses

January 31, 2018 by Michele W. Berger, University of Pennsylvania
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Federal regulations designed to keep guns away from abusive partners, like the Violence Against Women Act, do not currently apply to dating relationships. But new research from the University of Pennsylvania published in the journal Preventive Medicine reveals that they likely should.

According to the work conducted by Susan B. Sorenson, professor of social policy in the School of Social Policy & Practice, the majority of such —more than 80 percent of incidents in one study population—involve boyfriends and girlfriends. What's more, these partnerships result in the most physical .

"Current boyfriends or girlfriends were more likely than current spouses to injure their victims," said Sorenson, director of Penn's Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. "They were more likely to push and shove, to grab, to punch. They were more likely to strangle—some pretty awful behaviors toward a . They were also more likely to use a knife, a bat or another kind of weapon. We were not expecting to find this."

For this research, Sorenson and 2017 graduate Devan Spear aimed to move beyond general victimization surveys to learn not just whether someone has ever experienced intimate partner abuse, but also to identify the abuser. Was the person a current or former spouse, or a current or former girlfriend or boyfriend?

"Much of the intimate partner violence research has focused on lifetime experience, and that's a reasonable place to start," Sorenson said. "Once we have an overall picture in research, we begin to drill down in order to discern whether there are differences by considerations such as the type of ."

In 2011, Sorenson began collaborating with the Philadelphia Police Department to improve documentation of domestic violence in the city. As a result, an officer who responds to a such a call must fill out a form that includes a narrative description of the event, as well as other additional information such as victim-offender relationship and behavior, regardless of whether an arrest occurs.

Analyzing 31,206 of these forms from the year 2013, the Penn researchers found that 82.1 percent of intimate partner violence incidents included current or former dating partners (44.3 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively). Less than 15 percent involved current spouses, and just 3.5 percent involved ex-spouses. Nationally, more than half of intimate violence incidents are reported to police, with 54 percent involving current or former boyfriends or girlfriends.

Sorenson said there's no single explanation for the Philadelphia-specific results. For one, married and unmarried couples may experience to the same degree, but those in the latter group may be quicker or more likely to call the police. Perhaps someone in a dating relationship who experiences abuse may opt not to marry the abuser. Or, it might simply be that of the 10 largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of never-married adults, at 51.5 percent. By comparison, that figure in Chicago is 49.7 percent, and in Los Angeles, 46.5 percent.

She noted that protections against violent behavior like domestic abuse should expand to include broader definitions, particularly given the changing nature of relationships: From 1970 to 2009, the median age of first marriage for men rose from 22 to 28 years old, and for women increased from 20 to 25. Divorce rates also doubled during the same period for those aged 35 and older.

"People are less likely to marry, they marry later, they're less likely to have children and when they get married, they're more likely to get divorced," Sorenson said. "Relationships today are more transitory and not necessarily traditional."

The researchers said they recognize the limitations in using data from a single large U.S. city, and in relying on data they cannot independently verify. However, Sorenson pointed out that relationship status was not the only demographic information collected. Police officers appear to have applied the law equally in terms of race, ethnicity, age and gender, as well as the circumstances under which they gathered evidence, took statements, checked state registries and provided transportation to medical care.

Sorenson said she thinks the findings could have implications for policymaking and data collection at the national level.

"The federal policy focuses on people who are married, live together or have a child in common. We know that abuse occurs in addition to those kinds of relationships," she said. "Unfortunately, the federal policy doesn't address that, and the policy is from nearly a generation ago by now. It might be time to revisit."

That could happen soon: The Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994, comes up for reauthorization again in 2018.

Explore further: New research examines gun use, injury and fear in domestic violence

More information: Susan B. Sorenson et al, New data on intimate partner violence and intimate relationships: Implications for gun laws and federal data collection, Preventive Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.01.005

Related Stories

New research examines gun use, injury and fear in domestic violence

February 17, 2017
A weapon, whether a body part such as hands, fists and feet or an external instrument like a gun, often accompanies intimate-partner violence. Susan B. Sorenson of the University of Pennsylvania wanted to better understand ...

Teens and domestic violence

October 5, 2017
October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness month, and although domestic violence is mostly associated with adults, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says teens too often experience this type of abuse.

Broader gun restrictions lead to fewer intimate partner homicides

November 29, 2017
State laws that restrict gun ownership among domestic abusers and others with violent histories appear to significantly reduce intimate partner homicides, indicates a groundbreaking national study led by a Michigan State ...

Researchers link technologies and rejection of wife-beating justifications

August 18, 2017
Women with technologies like computers and mobile phones in their homes are more likely to reject justifications for wife beating, according to new findings from Susan B. Sorenson and Lauren Ferreira Cardoso of the University ...

Institute explores intimate partner violence across generations

October 30, 2013
Most parents who experienced intimate partner violence had children that grew to face violence in their own adult relationships, according to a study published by the Crime Victims' Institute at Sam Houston State University.

Women with multiple violent partners more likely to have endured childhood trauma, psychological abuse

November 15, 2016
While there is abundant research on violently abusive relationships, it does not delve into the background of each individual involved, according to University of Michigan researchers.

Recommended for you

Study analyzes numbers, trends in health care data breaches nationwide

September 25, 2018
Health plans—entities that cover the costs of medical care—accounted for the greatest number of patient records breached over the past seven years, according to an analysis of U.S. health care data conducted by two Massachusetts ...

New study finds concurrent use of prescription drugs and dietary supplements could pose health risks

September 25, 2018
A new University of Hertfordshire study found that using certain over-the-counter herbal medicines and dietary supplements alongside prescription drugs could pose serious health risks, especially amongst older adults.

It's not just for kids—even adults appear to benefit from a regular bedtime

September 21, 2018
Sufficient sleep has been proven to help keep the body healthy and the mind sharp. But it's not just an issue of logging at least seven hours of Z's.

Most nations falling short of UN targets to cut premature deaths from chronic diseases

September 21, 2018
People in the UK, US and China have a higher risk of dying early from conditions like cancer, heart disease and stroke than people in Italy, France, South Korea and Australia.

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.