Adulthood Stressors, History of Childhood Adversity, and Risk of Perpetration of Intimate Partner Violence

An examination of stress sensitization among perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) found that individuals with a history of childhood adversity and recent stressors are at an elevated risk for perpetrating IPV.

The authors analyzed IPV perpetration data from 34,653 adults from the 2004-2005 follow-up wave of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. They explored whether individuals’ IPV perpetration associated with stressors over the past year varied with individuals’ exposure to childhood adversity.

Among married respondents or those in a romantic relationship in the past year, 7.0 percent of women and 4.2 percent of men self-reported IPV perpetration. Among men with a history of high-level childhood adversity, past-year stressors were associated with an 8.8 percentage point (pp) increased risk of IPV perpetration. Men with low-level childhood adversity had a 2.3 pp increased risk. Women with high-level childhood adversity had a 14.3 pp increased risk of perpetration, while women with low-level childhood adversity had a 2.5 pp increased risk.

These findings indicate the importance of a life-course perspective on IPV perpetration, rather than examining only childhood or adult contributors to IPV. Treatment programs for perpetrators might benefit from continuing to examine the role of stress and stress reactivity in IPV perpetration.