Women are doing virtually everything these days that men are—working
as doctors, lawyers, and rocket scientists; flying helicopters in combat;
riding horses in the Kentucky Derby. And physically assaulting their spouses
In fact, when it comes to nonreciprocal violence between intimate partners,
women are more often the perpetrators.
These findings on intimate partner violence come from a study conducted by
scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The lead
investigator was Daniel Whitaker, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and team
leader at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (which is part
of the CDC). Results were published in the May Journal of Public
In 2001, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health attempted to
amass data about the health of a nationally representative sample of 14,322
individuals between the ages of 18 and 28. The study also asked subjects to
answer questions about romantic or sexual relationships in which they had
engaged during the previous five years and whether those relationships had
Of those subjects, 11,370 reported having had heterosexual relationships
and also provided answers to the violence-related questions. So Whitaker and
his colleagues decided to use the responses from these 11,370 subjects for a
study into how much violence is experienced in intimate heterosexual partner
relationships, who the instigators are, and whether physical harm accrues from
The 11,370 subjects, Whitaker and his colleagues found, reported on 18,761
relationships, of which 76 percent had been nonviolent and 24 percent violent.
That almost a quarter of the subjects had engaged in violent relationships may
seem high to some people, but "the rates we found are similar to those
of other studies of late adolescents and young adults, a time period when
interpersonal-violence rates are at their highest," Whitaker told
Psychiatric News. Also, he added, "these rates demonstrate the
magnitude of interpersonal violence as a health and social problem."
Furthermore, Whitaker discovered, of the 24 percent of relationships that
had been violent, half had been reciprocal and half had not. Although more men
than women (53 percent versus 49 percent) had experienced nonreciprocal
violent relationships, more women than men (52 percent versus 47 percent) had
taken part in ones involving reciprocal violence.
Regarding perpetration of violence, more women than men (25 percent versus
11 percent) were responsible. In fact, 71 percent of the instigators in
nonreciprocal partner violence were women. This finding surprised Whitaker and
his colleagues, they admitted in their study report.
As for physical injury due to intimate partner violence, it was more likely
to occur when the violence was reciprocal than nonreciprocal. And while injury
was more likely when violence was perpetrated by men, in relationships with
reciprocal violence it was the men who were injured more often (25 percent of
the time) than were women (20 percent of the time). "This is important
as violence perpetrated by women is often seen as not serious," Whitaker
and his group stressed.
Of the study's numerous findings, Whitaker said, "I think the most
important is that a great deal of interpersonal violence is reciprocally
perpetrated and that when it is reciprocally perpetrated, it is much more
likely to result in injury than when perpetrated by only one
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, upon which this
investigation was based, was funded by the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development with co-funding from 17 other federal agencies.
An abstract of "Differences in Frequency of Violence and
Reported Injury Between Relationships With Reciprocal and Nonreciprocal
Intimate Partner Violence" is posted at<www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/97/5/941>.▪