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Researcher Says Women's Initiation of Domestic Violence Predicts Risk to Women

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How can we prevent Intimate Partner Violence and injury to women? IPV researcher Deborah Capaldi, Ph.D., a social scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center, finds that the best way for women to be safe is to not initiate violence against their male partners. According to Dr. Capaldi, "The question of initiation of violence is a crucial one... much IPV is mutual, and initiations -- even that seem minor -- may lead to escalation."

Dr. Capaldi recently presented her work at "From Ideology to Inclusion 2009: New Directions in Domestic Violence Research and Intervention," an IPV conference in Los Angeles June 26-28 which was presented by the California Alliance for Families & Children and co-sponsored by The Family Violence Treatment & Education Association. While studies have consistently found that women initiate as much violence against their male partners as vice versa, two-thirds of domestic violence injuries are suffered by women.

Dr. Capaldi's research examined the different relationship violence scenarios -- violence by him only, violence by her only, violence by both with him initiating, and violence by both with her initiating. Of these, the most likely to result in future injury to women is when she initiates violence against him and he responds, although both mutually aggressive groups were close in danger levels.

Dr. Capaldi notes that in a study of women who were in a battered women's shelter, "67% of the women reported severe violence toward their partner in the past year." Others in the domestic violence field, including Erin Pizzey, founder of the first battered women's shelter in England in the early 1970s, have had similar findings.

According to Dr. Capaldi, "Overall, young couples with unidirectional violence report fewer acts and forms of violence than bidirectional couples."

Dr. Capaldi, who serves on the editorial boards of several academic journals related to family violence, is the Principal Investigator of the National Institute of Health's Oregon Youth Study. The OYS, which began in 1983, is a longitudinal study of the etiology of antisocial behaviors in boys.

The OYS' Couples Study followed the men in the study and their romantic partners from age 18 to 31-33, interacting with each other at seven different points in time during the 13-15 year period. The OYS studied physical aggression and psychological aggression among the men and women, using reports from men and women about their own violence, their reports of their partners' violence, and observed aggression.

As a general rule, men tend to underreport both their violence against their female partners and their female partners' violence against them. By contrast, women tend to over-report both the men's violence against them and their own violence. The couples in the study were also given tasks by the study's monitors, such as planning a party or discussing a problem with their partner, and were filmed and observed by the OYS during those tasks.

As in many studies of IPV, the OYS found that much IPV is bidirectional (meaning both are violent), and in unidirectional abusive relationships, the women were more likely to be abusive than the men.

The study found that a young woman's IPV was just as predictive of her male partner's future IPV as the man's own past IPV. In other words, whereas we often think of men as the only abusers and also as serial abusers, the OYS found that a woman's violence against her man was as predictive of his violence to her as his own history of violence.

Moreover, the study found that men's physical aggression changes significantly when they find a new partner. Instead of a man being either a batterer or not, often it was his female partner's violence or nonviolence which heavily influenced whether he would be violent to her.

Over time, the couples' change in violence -- generally reducing violence as they grow older -- was highly associated, meaning that if one stopped violence, the other did, too.

Dr. Capaldi believes that current IPV programs are putting women in harm's way. She says current batterer treatment programs are "ineffective... likely because they are not based on well-conducted research." She explains:

"Since much IPV is mutual and women as well as men initiate IPV, prevention and treatment approaches should attempt to reduce women's violence as well as men's violence. Such an approach has a much higher chance of increasing women's safety."

Glenn Sacks is the Executive Director of Fathers & Families, the nation's largest family court reform organization. Fathers and Families, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, improves the lives of children and strengthens society by protecting the child's right to the love and care of both parents after separation or divorce.

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