Primary Sources: Surveying the Latest Research on Intimate Partner Violence

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"Systemic Perspectives on Intimate Partner Violence Treatment" (abstract). Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 38, No. 1 (2012).

What it’s about: Research on intimate partner violence has evolved significantly over the last decade. After surveying the literature in 2003, Sandra M. Stith, Eric E. McCollum, Yvonne Amanor-Boadu, and Douglas Smith decided to take another look 10 years later to see what is now known about intimate partner violence and developing treatment approaches.   

Why read it: According to the authors, early research on intimate partner violence was based on data from the criminal justice and domestic violence shelter systems, where perpetrators of domestic violence tended to be largely male and victims largely female. However, a number of recent studies, which have taken a broader look inside communities as a whole, have found that both men and women are abusers. In some violent relationships, both partners are violent. To better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, researchers are exploring the different kinds of violent offenders –- both men and women -- and the number of different ways relationships can be abusive. The goal, the authors say, is to develop screening tools that could give therapists a better understanding of which couples may be able to safely undergo marital and family therapies designed to address interpersonal violence.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: According to the authors, there is growing consensus in the research community on two major types of perpetrators: those who are “characterological,” also referred to as "intimate terrorists" by some researchers, and those who are “situational.” Characterological perpetrators use violence to dominate and control a partner, and they may also be violent outside the family. Situational perpetrators are more likely to act violently in specific situations because they lack communication and conflict resolution skills. Many of those violent incidents are also fueled by drug and alcohol use.

The authors suggest that situational perpetrators may be good candidates for marital and family therapies that address domestic violence. In their review, they found a handful of therapies that have shown some promise, despite very limited research in this area: Behavioral Couples Treatment, Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment, Couples Abuse Prevention Program, Circles of Peace and Motivational Interviewing. Each therapy addresses conflict resolution and communication skills, and some have a substance abuse treatment component. For those who are "characterological" perpetrators, individual and gender-specific group treatments may be safer and more appropriate than the more systemic treatments described above, the authors say.

Additional reference: The Domestic Violence Evidence Project has comprehensive information about what works in domestic violence screening and intervention.

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