Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Domestic violence: Not always one sided

In Brief

Domestic violence: Not always one sided

Mention of domestic violence immediately brings to mind an intimidating male batterer. But a 2007 article shows that the problem — also called intimate partner violence — is often more complicated and may involve both women and men as perpetrators.

Nearly 11,000 men and women, a representative sample of the American population ages 18 to 28, participated in a national survey. They were asked the following questions about their most important recent sexual or romantic relationship:

  1. How often in the past year have you threatened your partner with violence, pushed him or her, or thrown something at him or her that could hurt, and how often has your partner done that to you?

  2. How often in the past year have you hit, slapped, or kicked your partner, and how often has your partner done that to you?

  3. If there has been any violence in your relationship, how often has either partner suffered an injury, such as a sprain, bruise, or cut?

Almost 25% of the people surveyed — 28% of women and 19% of men — said there was some violence in their relationship. Women admitted perpetrating more violence (25% versus 11%) as well as being victimized more by violence (19% versus 16%) than men did. According to both men and women, 50% of this violence was reciprocal, that is, involved both parties, and in those cases the woman was more likely to have been the first to strike.

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