Intimate partner violence (IPV) – Helen Rayner

Risk Factors for Violence in the Home

Violence knows no race, class or age, yet there are specific risk factors that can make persons more likely to be perpetrators or victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). These factors can be individual, relationship, community or society based, and it is importance that awareness of their existence and relationship to domestic violence, be shared. In South Africa, IPV is the most common violent experience affecting women, as reported in the South African Stress and Health (SASH) survey, carried out by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cape Town. According to the survey, IPV affects 13.8 per cent of women, and 1.3 per cent of men.

IPV: What does it comprise?

IPV can take many forms, encompassing physical and sexual abuse; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; and any other type of intimidation, harassment, or attempts to control. In its most extreme form, domestic violence/ IPV result in death. The alarming rate of female homicides in South Africa led to the coining of the term, ‘intimate femicide’, with up to four women killed daily at the hands of their male partners. A highly informative article published recently in the journal, Maternal Child Health, noted that intimate partner violence among South African women during pregnancy and the postpartum stage, is also alarmingly high. Over 20 per cent of all women, note the authors, experienced at least one act of physical, psychological or sexual IPV during pregnancy and almost 25 per cent experienced an act of IPV during the first nine months after giving birth.

Examples of risk factors for IPV include having low self-esteem, being young, suffering from depression, abusing alcohol and drugs, isolation, being controlling in relationships, being a victim of abuse in one’s childhood, being emotionally dependent on one’s partner, having difficulty managing anger, and believing in specific gender roles (i.e. accepting that it is normal for male to take a dominant role in relationships, or to express aggression in a violent manner).

Undergoing unemployment and economic strife is another risk factor for violence. Those who are heavily in debt or finding it difficult to make ends meet, as well as those who have a low academic achievement, can take their stress out on their partners. In most relationships, money is one of the major reasons for conflict, yet when the issue affects those with a tendency towards violence, abuse can ensue. Another risk factor is being antisocial; having few friends and wishing to spend all one’s time exclusively with one’s partner or spouse. IPV can also occur when a couple has already separated or divorced, since conflicts and fights can continue to be a problem until a divorce is fully settled.

Weak communities also increase the likelihood of violence; in these areas, neighbours can be reticent to intervene in cases of violence, and a lack of healthy norms in communities can affect individuals and their relationships. Finally, traditional ideas of gender (men should be breadwinners and women stay home and care for the children) can also harm the stability and peace between partners and spouses.

Prevention of IPV

The prevention of violence is heavily dependent upon awareness and education. The government needs to take a larger role in promoting the kind of change in all areas that have a bearing on IPV: individual, relationship, community, and society. Women, too, need to have an increased awareness of the factors they are facing that may be exposing them to a greater risk of violence. They should also have access to programmes which teach individuals vital strategies which are crucial to maintaining healthy relationships.

There are three types of prevention when it comes to IPV: primary prevention (before violence has occurred), secondary prevention (the immediate response after violence has occurred) and tertiary prevention (long-term responses after violence has occurred, which address the long-term consequences of violence. Governmental measures need to be taken to address IPV at all levels: first of all, the nature and extent of the problem must be defined; secondly, all risk and protective factors should be identified. New prevention strategies must be developed and tested and finally, these strategies must be implemented. Education should also tackle the problem of IPV, teaching children conflict resolution skills and stressing the importance of finding solutions to problems that do not involve violence, insults or oppression.