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Free Content Prevalence of Partner Abuse: Rates of Emotional Abuse and Control

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Partner abuse research over the past two decades has divided violent, threatening, or abusive phenomena into discrete areas of interest to researchers that, although distinct, are still broadly defined under the common category of “domestic abuse” or, more recently, intimate partner violence (IPV). Thus, any concerted attempt to typify the various substrata of IPV research must recognize the distinct features of each area regarding their component parts (i.e., behavioral or psychological sequelae, incidence and prevalence, and social or interpersonal context) while maintaining the overarching categorical commonality as variants of IPV.

This article constitutes a contemporaneous and systematic review of the research on three aspects of controlling coercive violence (CCV): emotional abuse, sexual coercion, and stalking or obsessive behavior, along with a separate examination of when these IPV substrata are combined with physical assaults on intimate partners. Each CCV substrata is operationally defined in research terms common to the social science research, and tabular and narrative data is provided on the incidence and prevalence of each substrata and the combined category. Notable findings derived from this review are reported for each of the three aspects of CCV. For emotional abuse, prevalence rates might average around 80%, with 40% of women and 32% of men reporting expressive aggression (i.e., verbal abuse or emotional violence in response to some agitating or aggravating circumstance) and 41% of women and 43% of men reporting some form of coercive control. For sexual coercion, national samples demonstrated the widest disparity by gender of victim, with 0.2% of men and 4.5% of women endorsing forced sexual intercourse by a partner. By far, the largest selection of highly variable studies, stalking and obsessive behaviors showed a range from 4.1% to 8.0% of women and 0.5% to 2.0% of men in the United States have been stalked at some time in their life. Women were reported as having a significantly higher prevalence (7%) of stalking victimization than men (2%). For all types of violence, except being followed in a way that frightened them, strangers were the most common perpetrators; as reported in approximately 80% of cases, women were most often victimized by men they knew, most frequently, their current or former intimate partners. Among women who reported repeated unwanted contact, current (15.9%) and former (32.9%) intimate partners were the perpetrators in nearly half of the most recent incidents and the largest subdivision of reports came from college or university student samples.

A separate examination reports of these types of IPV combined with physical assaults on intimate partners reported the strongest link was between stalking and other forms of violence in intimate relationships: 81% of women who were stalked by a current or former husband or cohabiting partner were also physically assaulted by that partner and 31% reported being sexually assaulted by that partner. Of the types of IPV reported on, most forms of violence that show the highest rates of reportage come from large national samples, with smaller samples showing increased variability. This article concludes with a brief section delineating conclusions that can be drawn from the review and the potential implications for research, practice, and IPV scholarship.

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Keywords: EMOTIONAL ABUSE; INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE; META-ANALYSIS; PREVALENCE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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