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Exploring factors influencing domestic violence: a comprehensive study on intrafamily dynamics

Cintya lanchimba.

1 Departamento de Economía Cuantitativa, Facultad de Ciencias Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito, Ecuador

2 Institut de Recherche en Gestion et Economie, Université de Savoie Mont Blanc (IREGE/IAE Savoie Mont Blanc), Annecy, France

Juan Pablo Díaz-Sánchez

Franklin velasco.

3 Department of Marketing, Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ, Quito, Ecuador

Associated Data

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.


This econometric analysis investigates the nexus between household factors and domestic violence. By considering diverse variables encompassing mood, depression, health consciousness, social media engagement, household chores, density, and religious affiliation, the study aims to comprehend the underlying dynamics influencing domestic violence.

Employing econometric techniques, this study examined a range of household-related variables for their potential associations with levels of violence within households. Data on mood, depression, health consciousness, social media usage, household chores, density, and religious affiliation were collected and subjected to rigorous statistical analysis.

The findings of this study unveil notable relationships between the aforementioned variables and levels of violence within households. Positive mood emerges as a mitigating factor, displaying a negative correlation with violence. Conversely, depression positively correlates with violence, indicating an elevated propensity for conflict. Increased health consciousness is linked with diminished violence, while engagement with social media demonstrates a moderating influence. Reduction in the time allocated to household chores corresponds with lower violence levels. Household density, however, exhibits a positive association with violence. The effects of religious affiliation on violence manifest diversely, contingent upon household position and gender.

The outcomes of this research offer critical insights for policymakers and practitioners working on formulating strategies for preventing and intervening in instances of domestic violence. The findings emphasize the importance of considering various household factors when designing effective interventions. Strategies to bolster positive mood, alleviate depression, encourage health consciousness, and regulate social media use could potentially contribute to reducing domestic violence. Additionally, the nuanced role of religious affiliation underscores the need for tailored approaches based on household dynamics, positioning, and gender.

1. Introduction

Intimate partner violence is a pervasive global issue, particularly affecting women. According to the World Health Organization ( 1 ), approximately 30% of women worldwide have experienced violence from their intimate partners. Disturbingly, recent studies indicate that circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupt daily lives on a global scale, have exacerbated patterns of violence against women ( 2 – 4 ). Data from the WHO ( 1 ) regarding gender-based violence during the pandemic reveals that one in three women felt insecure within their homes due to family conflicts with their partners.

This pressing issue of intimate partner violence demands a thorough analysis from a social perspective. It is often insidious and challenging to identify, as cultural practices and the normalization of abusive behaviors, such as physical aggression and verbal abuse, persist across diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. However, all forms of violence can inflict physical and psychological harm on victims, affecting their overall well-being and interpersonal relationships WHO ( 5 ). Furthermore, households with a prevalence of domestic violence are more likely to experience child maltreatment ( 6 ).

In this context, the COVID-19 pandemic has had profound effects on individuals, families, and communities worldwide, creating a complex landscape of challenges and disruptions. Among the numerous repercussions, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated issues of domestic violence within households. The confinement measures, economic strain, and heightened stress levels resulting from the pandemic have contributed to a volatile environment where violence can escalate. Understanding the factors that influence domestic violence during this unprecedented crisis is crucial for developing effective prevention and intervention strategies.

This article aims to explore the relationship between household factors and domestic violence within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. By employing econometric analysis, we investigate how various factors such as mood, depression, health consciousness, social media usage, household chores, density, and religious affiliation relate to violence levels within households. These factors were selected based on their relevance to the unique circumstances and challenges presented by the pandemic.

The study builds upon existing research that has demonstrated the influence of individual and household characteristics on domestic violence. However, the specific context of the pandemic necessitates a deeper examination of these factors and their implications for violence within households. By focusing on variables that are particularly relevant in the crisis, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics that contribute to intrafamily violence during the pandemic.

The findings of this study have important implications for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers involved in addressing domestic violence. By identifying the factors that either increase or mitigate violence within households, we can develop targeted interventions and support systems to effectively respond to the unique challenges posed by the pandemic. Furthermore, this research contributes to the broader literature on domestic violence by highlighting the distinct influence of household factors within the context of a global health crisis.

The structure of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a comprehensive review of the relevant literature on household violence. Section 3 presents the case study that forms the basis of this research. Section 4 outlines the methodology employed in the study. Section 5 presents the results obtained from the empirical analysis. Finally, Section 6 concludes the paper, summarizing the key findings and their implications for addressing domestic violence.

2. Literature review

2.1. violence at home.

Throughout human history, the family unit has been recognized as the fundamental building block of society. Families are comprised of individuals bound by blood or marriage, and they are ideally regarded as havens of love, care, affection, and personal growth, where individuals should feel secure and protected. Unfortunately, it is distressingly common to find alarming levels of violence, abuse, and aggression within the confines of the home ( 7 ).

Domestic violence, as defined by Tan and Haining ( 8 ), encompasses any form of violent behavior directed toward family members, regardless of their gender, resulting in physical, sexual, or psychological harm. It includes acts of threats, coercion, and the deprivation of liberty. This pervasive issue is recognized as a public health problem that affects all nations. It is important to distinguish between domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV), as they are related yet distinct phenomena. DV occurs within the family unit, affecting both parents and children. On the other hand, IPV refers to violent and controlling acts perpetrated by one partner against another, encompassing physical aggression (such as hitting, kicking, and beating), sexual, economic, verbal, or emotional harm ( 9 , 10 ). IPV can occur between partners who cohabit or not, and typically involves male partners exerting power and control over their female counterparts. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that there are cases where men are also victims of violence ( 11 ).

Both forms of violence, DV and IPV, take place within the home. However, when acts of violence occur in the presence of children, regardless of whether they directly experience physical harm or simply witness the violence, the consequences can be profoundly detrimental ( 12 , 13 ).

Understanding the intricacies and dynamics of domestic violence and its impact on individuals and families is of paramount importance. The consequences of such violence extend beyond the immediate victims, affecting the overall well-being and social fabric of society. Therefore, it is crucial to explore the various factors that contribute to domestic violence, including those specific to the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to inform effective prevention and intervention strategies. In the following sections, we will examine the empirical findings regarding household factors and their association with domestic violence, shedding light on the complexities and nuances of this pervasive issue.

2.2. Drivers of domestic violence

As previously discussed, the occurrence of violence within the home carries significant consequences for individuals’ lives. Consequently, gaining an understanding of the underlying factors that contribute to this violence is crucial. To this end, Table 1 provides a comprehensive summary of the most commonly identified determinants of domestic violence within the existing literature.

Determinants of domestic violence.

Adapted and improved from the classification proposed by Visaria ( 16 ).

Identifying these determinants is a vital step toward comprehending the complex nature of domestic violence. By synthesizing the findings from numerous studies, Table 1 presents a consolidated overview of the factors that have been consistently associated with domestic violence. This compilation serves as a valuable resource for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers seeking to address and mitigate the prevalence of domestic violence.

The determinants presented in Table 1 encompass various variables, including socio-economic factors, mental health indicators, interpersonal dynamics, and other relevant aspects. By examining and analyzing these determinants, researchers have made significant progress in uncovering the underlying causes and risk factors associated with domestic violence.

It is important to note that the determinants listed in Table 1 represent recurring themes in the literature and are not an exhaustive representation of all potential factors influencing domestic violence. The complex nature of this issue necessitates ongoing research and exploration to deepen our understanding of the multifaceted dynamics at play. Thus, we categorize these factors into two groups to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue.

Group A focuses on variables that characterize both the victim and the aggressor, which may act as potential deterrents against femicide. Previous research by Alonso-Borrego and Carrasco ( 17 ), Anderberg et al. ( 18 ), Sen ( 19 ), and Visaria ( 16 ) has highlighted the significance of factors such as age, level of education, employment status, occupation, and religious affiliation. These individual characteristics play a role in shaping the dynamics of domestic violence and can influence the likelihood of its occurrence.

Group B aims to capture risk factors that contribute to the presence of violence within the home. One prominent risk factor is overcrowding, which can lead to psychological, social, and economic problems within the family, ultimately affecting the health of its members. Research by Van de Velde et al. ( 21 ), Walker-Descartes et al. ( 23 ), Malik and Naeem ( 2 ) supports the notion that individuals experiencing such distress may resort to exerting force or violence on other family members as a means of releasing their frustration. Additionally, Goodman ( 32 ) have highlighted the increased risk of violence in households with multiple occupants, particularly in cases where individuals are confined to a single bedroom. These concepts can be further explored through variables related to health, depression, anxiety, and stress, providing valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying domestic violence.

By investigating these factors, our study enhances the existing understanding of the complex dynamics of domestic violence within the unique context of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated various stressors and challenges within households, potentially intensifying the risk of violence. Understanding the interplay between these factors and domestic violence is essential for the development of targeted interventions and support systems to mitigate violence and its consequences.

2.3. Demographic characteristics (A)

2.3.1. education level (a1).

According to Sen ( 19 ), the education level of the victim, typically women, or the head of household is a significant antecedent of domestic violence. Women’s access to and completion of secondary education play a crucial role in enhancing their capacity and control over their lives. Higher levels of education not only foster confidence and self-esteem but also empower women to seek help and resources, ultimately reducing their tolerance for domestic violence. Babu and Kar ( 33 ), Semahegn and Mengistie ( 34 ) support this perspective by demonstrating that women with lower levels of education and limited work opportunities are more vulnerable to experiencing violence.

When women assume the role of the head of the household, the likelihood of violence within the household, whether domestic or intimate partner violence, increases significantly. This has severe physical and mental health implications for both the woman and other family members, and in the worst-case scenario, it can result in the tragic loss of life ( 22 , 23 , 35 ).

Conversely, men’s economic frustration or their inability to fulfill the societal expectation of being the “head of household” is also a prominent factor contributing to the perpetration of physical and sexual violence within the home ( 36 ).The frustration arising from economic difficulties, combined with the frequent use of drugs and alcohol, exacerbates the likelihood of violent behavior.

These findings underscore the importance of addressing socio-economic disparities and promoting gender equality in preventing and combating domestic violence. By enhancing women’s access to education, improving economic opportunities, and challenging traditional gender roles, we can create a more equitable and violence-free society. Additionally, interventions targeting men’s economic empowerment and addressing substance abuse issues can play a pivotal role in reducing violence within the home.

2.3.2. Employment and occupation (A2)

Macroeconomic conditions, specifically differences in unemployment rates between men and women, have been found to impact domestic violence. Research suggests that an increase of 1% in the male unemployment rate is associated with an increase in physical violence within the home, while an increase in the female unemployment rate is linked to a reduction in violence ( 37 ).

Moreover, various studies ( 34 , 35 , 38 , 39 ) have highlighted the relationship between domestic violence and the husband’s working conditions, such as workload and job quality, as well as the income he earns. The exercise of authority within the household and the use of substances that alter behavior are also associated with domestic violence.

Within this context, economic gender-based violence is a prevalent but lesser-known form of violence compared to physical or sexual violence. It involves exerting unacceptable economic control over a partner, such as allocating limited funds for expenses or preventing them from working to maintain economic dependence. This form of violence can also manifest through excessive and unsustainable spending without consulting the partner. Economic gender-based violence is often a “silent” form of violence, making it more challenging to detect and prove ( 40 ).

Empowerment becomes a gender challenge that can lead to increased violence, as men may experience psychological stress when faced with the idea of women earning more than them ( 14 , 18 ). Lastly, Alonso-Borrego and Carrasco ( 17 ) and Tur-Prats ( 41 ) conclude that intrafamily violence decreases only when the woman’s partner is also employed, highlighting the significance of economic factors in influencing domestic violence dynamics.

Understanding the interplay between macroeconomic conditions, employment, and economic control within intimate relationships is crucial for developing effective interventions and policies aimed at reducing domestic violence. By addressing the underlying economic inequalities and promoting gender equality in both the labor market and household dynamics, we can work toward creating safer and more equitable environments that contribute to the prevention of domestic violence.

2.3.3. Religion (A3)

Religion and spiritual beliefs have been found to play a significant role in domestic violence dynamics. Certain religious interpretations and teachings can contribute to the acceptance of violence, particularly against women, as a form of submission or obedience. This phenomenon is prevalent in Middle Eastern countries, where religious texts such as the Bible and the Qur’an are often quoted to justify and perpetuate gender-based violence ( 20 ).

For example, in the book of Ephesians 5:22–24, the Bible states that wives should submit themselves to their husbands, equating the husband’s authority to that of the Lord. Similarly, the Qur’an emphasizes the importance of wives being sexually available to their husbands in all aspects of their relationship. These religious teachings can create a belief system where women are expected to endure mistreatment and forgive their abusive partners ( 15 ).

The influence of religious beliefs and practices can complicate a woman’s decision to leave an abusive relationship, particularly when marriage is considered a sacred institution. Feelings of guilt and difficulties in seeking support or ending the relationship can arise due to the belief that marriage is ordained by God ( 15 ).

It is important to note that the response of religious congregations and communities to domestic violence can vary. In some cases, if abuse is ignored or not condemned, it may perpetuate the cycle of violence and hinder efforts to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable. However, in other instances, religious organizations may provide emotional support and assistance through dedicated sessions aimed at helping all affected family members heal and address the violence ( 20 ).

Recognizing the influence of religious beliefs on domestic violence is crucial for developing comprehensive interventions and support systems that address the specific challenges faced by individuals within religious contexts. This includes promoting awareness, education, and dialog within religious communities to foster an understanding that violence is never acceptable and to facilitate a safe environment for victims to seek help and healing.

2.4. Presence of risk factor (B)

2.4.1. depression, anxiety, and stress (b1).

Within households, the occurrence of violence is unfortunately prevalent, often stemming from economic constraints, social and psychological problems, depression, and stress. These factors instill such fear in the victims that they are often hesitant to report the abuse to the authorities ( 42 ).

Notably, when women assume the role of heads of households, they experience significantly higher levels of depression compared to men ( 21 ). This study highlights that the presence of poverty, financial struggles, and the ensuing violence associated with these circumstances significantly elevate the risk of women experiencing severe health disorders, necessitating urgent prioritization of their well-being. Regrettably, in low-income countries where cases of depression are on the rise within public hospitals, the provision of adequate care becomes an insurmountable challenge ( 21 ).

These findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive support systems and targeted interventions that address the multifaceted impact of domestic violence on individuals’ mental and physical health. Furthermore, effective policies should be implemented to alleviate economic hardships and provide accessible mental health services, particularly in low-income settings. By addressing the underlying factors contributing to violence within households and ensuring adequate care for those affected, society can take significant strides toward breaking the cycle of violence and promoting a safer and more supportive environment for individuals and families.

2.4.2. Retention tendency (B2)

Many societies, particularly in Africa, are characterized by a deeply ingrained patriarchal social structure, where men hold the belief that they have the right to exert power and control over their partners ( 31 ). This ideology of patriarchy is often reinforced by women themselves, who may adhere to traditional gender roles and view marital abuse as a norm rather than recognizing it as an act of violence. This acceptance of abuse is influenced by societal expectations and cultural norms that prioritize the preservation of marriage and the submission of women.

Within these contexts, there is often a preference for male children over female children, as males are seen as essential for carrying on the family name and lineage ( 43 ). This preference is also reflected in the distribution of property and decision-making power within households, where males are given greater rights and authority. Such gender-based inequalities perpetuate the cycle of power imbalances and contribute to the normalization of violence against women.

It is important to note that men can also be victims of domestic violence. However, societal and cultural norms have long portrayed men as strong and superior figures, making it challenging for male victims to come forward and report their abusers due to the fear of being stigmatized and rejected by society ( 16 ). The cultural expectations surrounding masculinity create barriers for men seeking help and support, further perpetuating the silence around male victimization.

These cultural dynamics underscore the complexity of domestic violence within patriarchal societies. Challenging and dismantling deeply rooted gender norms and power structures is essential for addressing domestic violence effectively. This includes promoting gender equality, empowering women, and engaging men and boys in efforts to combat violence. It also requires creating safe spaces and support systems that encourage both women and men to break the silence, seek help, and challenge the harmful societal narratives that perpetuate violence and victim-blaming.

2.4.3. Density (B3)

Moreover, the issue of overcrowding within households has emerged as another important factor influencing domestic violence. Overcrowding refers to the stress caused by the presence of a large number of individuals in a confined space, leading to a lack of control over one’s environment ( 44 ). This overcrowding can have a detrimental impact on the psychological well-being of household members, thereby negatively affecting their internal relationships.

The freedom to use spaces within the home and the ability to control interactions with others have been identified as crucial factors that contribute to satisfaction with the home environment and the way individuals relate to each other. In this regard, studies have shown that when households are crowded, and individuals lack personal space and control over their living conditions, the risk of violence may increase ( 45 ).

Furthermore, investigations conducted during periods of extensive confinement, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have shed light on the significance of other environmental factors within homes ( 46 ). For instance, aspects like proper ventilation and adequate living space have been found to influence the overall quality of life and the health of household inhabitants.

These findings emphasize the importance of considering the physical living conditions and environmental factors within households when examining the dynamics of domestic violence. Addressing issues of overcrowding, promoting healthy and safe living environments, and ensuring access to basic amenities and resources are crucial steps in reducing the risk of violence and improving the well-being of individuals and families within their homes.

2.4.4. Reason for confrontation (B4)

Another form of violence that exists within households is abandonment and neglect, which manifests through a lack of protection, insufficient physical care, neglecting emotional needs, and disregarding proper nutrition and medical care ( 47 ). This definition highlights that any member of the family can be subjected to this form of violence, underscoring the significance of recognizing its various manifestations.

In this complex context, negative thoughts and emotions can arise, leading to detrimental consequences. For instance, suspicions of infidelity and feelings of jealousy can contribute to a decrease in the partner’s self-esteem, ultimately triggering intimate partner violence that inflicts physical, social, and health damages ( 32 , 48 ).

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the intimate connection between domestic violence and civil issues. Marital conflicts, particularly when accompanied by violence, whether physical or psychological, can lead to a profound crisis within the relationship, often resulting in divorce. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining a divorce or establishing parental arrangements can be protracted, creating additional friction and potentially exacerbating gender-based violence ( 49 ).

These dynamics underscore the complex interplay between domestic violence and broader social, emotional, and legal contexts. Understanding these interconnected factors is crucial for developing effective interventions and support systems that address the multifaceted nature of domestic violence, promote healthy relationships, and safeguard the well-being of individuals and families within the home.

Finally, despite the multitude of factors identified in the existing literature that may have an impact on gender-based violence, we have selected a subset of variables for our study based on data availability. Specifically, our analysis will concentrate on the following factors reviewed: (A3) religion, (B1) depression, health consciousness, and mood, (B2) retention tendency as reflected by household chores, and (B3) density.

The rationale behind our choice of these variables stems from their perceived significance and potential relevance to the study of domestic violence. Religion has been widely acknowledged as a social and cultural determinant that shapes beliefs, values, and gender roles within a society, which may have implications for power dynamics and relationship dynamics within households. Depression, as a psychological construct, has been frequently associated with increased vulnerability and impaired coping mechanisms, potentially contributing to the occurrence or perpetuation of domestic violence. Health consciousness and mood are additional constructs that have garnered attention in the context of interpersonal relationships. Health consciousness relates to individuals’ awareness and concern for their own well-being and that of others, which may influence their attitudes and behaviors within the household. Mood, on the other hand, reflects emotional states that can influence communication, conflict resolution, and overall dynamics within intimate relationships.

Furthermore, we have included the variable of retention tendency, as manifested through household chores. This variable is indicative of individuals’ willingness or inclination to maintain their involvement and responsibilities within the household. It is hypothesized that individuals with higher retention tendencies may exhibit a greater commitment to the relationship, which could influence the occurrence and dynamics of domestic violence. Lastly, we consider the variable of density, which captures the population density within the living environment. This variable may serve as a proxy for socio-environmental conditions, such as overcrowding or limited personal space, which can potentially contribute to stress, conflict, and interpersonal tensions within households.

By examining these selected factors, we aim to gain insights into their relationships with domestic violence and contribute to a better understanding of the complex dynamics underlying such occurrences. It is important to note that these variables represent only a subset of the broader range of factors that influence gender-based violence, and further research is warranted to explore additional dimensions and interactions within this multifaceted issue.

3. Data collection and variables

The reference population for this study is Ecuadorian habitants. Participants were invited to fill up a survey concerning COVID-19 impact on their mental health. Data collection took place between April and May 2020, exactly at the time of the mandatory lockdowns taking place. In this context governmental authorities ordered mobility restrictions as well as social distancing measures. We conduct three waves of social media invitations to participate in the study. Invitations were sent using the institutional accounts of the universities the authors of this study are affiliated. At the end, we received 2,403 answers, 50.5% females and 49.5% males. 49% of them have college degrees.

3.1. Ecuador stylized facts

Ecuador, a small developing country in South America, has a population of approximately 17 million inhabitants, with a population density of 61.85 people per square kilometer.

During the months under investigation, the Central Bank of Ecuador reported that the country’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020 amounted to $16,500 million. This represented a decrease of 7.2% compared to the same period in 2019, and a 5.6% decline in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter of the previous year. However, despite these declines, there was a slight growth of 0.6% in the GDP during the fourth quarter of 2020 and 0.7% in the first quarter of 2021 when compared to the previous quarter.

In mid-March, the Ecuadorian government implemented a mandatory lockdown that lasted for several weeks. By July 30, 2020, Ecuador had reported over 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The statistics on the impact of the pandemic revealed a death rate of 23.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, ranking Ecuador fourth globally behind the UK, Italy, and the USA, with rates of 63.7, 57.1, and 36.2, respectively. Additionally, Ecuador’s observed case-fatality ratio stood at 8.3%, placing it fourth globally after Italy, the UK, and Mexico, with rates of 14.5, 14, and 11.9%, respectively ( 50 ). As the lockdown measures continued, mental health issues began to emerge among the population ( 51 ).

The challenging socioeconomic conditions and the impact of the pandemic on public health have had significant repercussions in Ecuador, highlighting the need for comprehensive strategies to address both the immediate and long-term consequences on the well-being of its population.

3.2. Dependent variable

The dependent variable in this study is Domestic Violence, which is measured using a composite score derived from five items. These items were rated on a 7-point scale, ranging from 1 (never) to 7 (very frequent), to assess the frequency of intrafamily conflict and violence occurring within the respondents’ homes. The five items included the following statements: “In my house, subjects are discussed with relative calm”; “In my house, heated discussions are common but without shouting at each other”; “Anger is common in my house, and I refuse to talk to others”; “In my house, there is the threat that someone will hit or throw something”; and “In my house, family members get easily irritated.”

To evaluate the internal consistency of the measurement, Cronbach’s Alpha was calculated and found to be 0.7. This indicates good internal consistency, suggesting that the items in the scale are measuring a similar construct and can be considered reliable for assessing the level of domestic violence within the households under investigation.

3.3. Independent variables

3.3.1. mood.

The mood construct, based on Peterson and Sauber ( 52 ), is measured using three Likert scale questions. The respondents rate their agreement on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The questions included: “I am in a good mood,” “I feel happy,” and “At this moment, I feel nervous or irritable.” The Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient for this construct is 0.7757, indicating good internal consistency.

3.3.2. Depression

The depression construct, based on the manual for the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales by Lovibond S and Lovibond P, is measured by summing the results of 13 Likert scale questions. The scale ranges from strongly disagreeing to strongly agreeing. The questions include: “I feel that life is meaningless,” “I do not feel enthusiastic about anything,” “I feel downhearted and sad,” and others. The Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient for this construct is 0.9031, indicating high internal consistency.

3.3.3. Health consciousness

The health consciousness construct, based on Gould ( 53 ), is measured using four Likert scale questions. The respondents rate their agreement on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The questions include: “I’m alert to changes in my health,” “I am concerned about the health of others,” “Throughout the day, I am aware of what foods are best for my health,” and “I notice how I lose energy as the day goes by.” The Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient for this construct is 0.7, indicating acceptable internal consistency.

3.3.4. Household chores

The respondents were asked to rate their involvement in various household chores on a scale from “not at all” to “a lot.” The listed household chores include cooking, washing dishes, cleaning restrooms, doing laundry, home maintenance, and helping with children/siblings. It can serve as a proxy for Retention Tendency.

3.3.5. Density

It is measured as the number of people per bedroom, indicating the level of overcrowding within households.

3.3.6. Religion

The religion construct is measured as the sum of four Likert scale items based on Worthington et al. ( 54 ). The respondents rate their agreement on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The items include: “My religious beliefs lie behind my whole approach to life,” “It is important to me to spend periods in private religious thought and reflection,” “Religion is very important to me because it answers many questions about the meaning of life,” and “I am informed about my local religious group and have some influence in its decisions.” The Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient for this construct is 0.8703, indicating good internal consistency.

3.4. Control variables

3.4.1. social media.

The respondents were asked to indicate the number of hours they spend on social networks during a typical day. The scale ranges from “I do not review information on social networks” to “More than three hours.”

Sex is measured as a binary variable, where 1 represents female and 0 represents male.

Age refers to the age of the respondent.

3.4.4. Age of householder

Age of householder refers to the age of the individual who is the primary occupant or head of the household.

3.5. Describe statistics

Table 2 reports the means, standard deviation, and correlation matrix. Our dataset has not the presence of missing values.

Summary statistics.

* p < 0.01.

Descriptive statistics reveal that the variables in the sample exhibit a considerable degree of homogeneity, as evidenced by the means being larger than the standard deviations. Moreover, the strong correlation between Depression and mood suggests that these two variables should not be included together in the same model.

4. Methodological approach

Our empirical identification strategy comprises the following linear model:

We employed ordinary least squares (OLS) regression techniques to examine the relationship between our selected exogenous variables and household violence during the period of mandatory lockdowns. To ensure the robustness of our regression model, we conducted several diagnostic tests. Firstly, we tested for heteroscedasticity using the Breusch-Pagan test, yielding a chi-square value of 223.58 with a value of p of 0, indicating the presence of heteroscedasticity in the model. Secondly, we assessed multicollinearity using the variance inflation factor (VIF), which yielded a VIF value of 1.07, indicating no significant multicollinearity issues among the variables. Furthermore, we conducted the Ramsey Reset test to examine the presence of omitted variables in the model. The test yielded an F-statistic of 2.06 with a value of p of 0.103, suggesting no strong evidence of omitted variables. Lastly, we checked the normality of the residuals using the skewness and kurtosis tests, which yielded a chi-square value of 97.9 with a value of p of 0, indicating departure from normality in the residuals.

Hence, our analysis revealed the presence of heteroscedasticity issues and non-normality in the residuals. Consequently, it is imperative to employ an alternative estimation technique that can handle these challenges robustly. In light of these circumstances, we opted for Quantile Regression, as proposed by Koenker and Bassett ( 55 ), which allows for a comprehensive characterization of the relationship between the input variable(s) x and the dependent variable y.

4.1. Quantile regression

While an OLS predicts the average relationship between the independent variables and the dependent variable, which can cause the estimate to be unrepresentative of the entire distribution of the dependent variable if it is not identically distributed, Quantile Regression allows estimating parts of the dependent variable. Distribution of the dependent variable and thus determine the variations of the effect produced by the exogenous variables on the endogenous variable in different quantiles ( 56 ). The Quantile Regression methodology also presents the benefit that, by providing them with a weight, the errors are minimal. Quantile Regression is defined as follows:

where: Y i is dependent variable, X i is vector of independent variables, β(ϑ): is vector of parameters to be estimated for a given quantile ϑ, e ϑ i : is random disturbance corresponding to the quantile ϑ, Q ϑ ( Y i ) is qth quantile of the conditional distribution of Y i given the known vector of regressors X i .

The Quantile Regression model provides predictions of a specific quantile of the conditional distribution of the dependent variable and is considered the generalization of the sample quantile of an independent and identically distributed random variable ( 57 ). By considering a range of quantiles, Quantile Regression offers a more nuanced understanding of the conditional distribution, making it a valuable technique for analyzing various aspects of the relationship between variables.

The estimation results are reported in Table 3 . The regressions 1 and 3 consider individuals who are not household heads, while regressions 2 and 4 involve the respondent being the household head. In regressions 5 and 6, the respondent is not the household head and is also female, whereas in regressions 7 and 8, the respondents are household heads and male. The regressions exhibit a coefficient of determination ranging between 9 and 11.

Standard errors in brackets. * p < 0.1, ** p < 0.05, *** p < 0.001.

The effects of the different variables studied on violence are presented below: Across all regressions, it can be observed that the mood of a person, which indicates whether they are in a good mood or feeling cheerful, nervous, or irritated, is statistically significant at all levels of confidence. This implies that violence decreases when the mood is good. On the other hand, depression has a positive and significant sign. This tells us that, on average, an increase of one unit in the depression, anxiety, and stress scale is associated with an increase in the measurement of conflict and intrafamily violence in a household, whether the respondent is a household head or not.

On the other hand, Health Consciousness has a negative and significant sign, indicating that violence decreases as Health Consciousness increases. However, it is noteworthy that it loses significance when the survey respondent is a woman, regardless of whether she is a household head or not.

Regarding Household chores, which refers to the time spent on household tasks, it can be observed that it is only significant and negative when the respondent is not a household head, and this significance holds even when the respondent is male. In other words, less time spent on household chores decreases violence in households where the respondent is not a household head.

The variable religion generally has a positive and significant sign in most regressions, but loses significance in regressions (1) and (5), where the respondent is not the household head and is female, respectively. This suggests that being religious would increase the levels of violence.

In general, density increases violence in the surveyed households, as indicated by a positive and significant sign. However, it is interesting to note that it is only significant again when the respondent is not a household head and is female, or when the respondent is a household head and is male.

As for the control variables, the variable Social media, which indicates the number of hours a person spends on social media, is positive and significant whether the respondent is a household head or not, and even when the respondent is male. This suggests that violence decreases with access to social media, possibly due to increased access to information. Finally, the variables sex, age of the respondent, and age of the household head were not significant.

6. Discussion

Interestingly, the prevalence and intensity of domestic violence appear to vary across different segments of society. Goodman ( 33 ) have highlighted the existence of variations in episodes of domestic violence among social strata. They have also identified several factors that act as deterrents to domestic violence, including income levels, educational attainment, employment status of the household head, household density, consumption of psychotropic substances, anxiety, and stress. These factors increase the likelihood of experiencing instances of violence within the home.

Within this context, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching implications for individuals and families worldwide, with significant impacts on various aspects of daily life, including domestic dynamics. This study explores the relationship between household factors and violence within the context of the pandemic, shedding light on the unique challenges and dynamics that have emerged during this period.

Our findings highlight the importance of considering mental well-being in the context of domestic violence during the pandemic. We observe that positive mood is associated with a decrease in violence levels within households. This suggests that maintaining good mental health and emotional well-being during times of crisis can serve as a protective factor against violence. With the increased stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, policymakers and practitioners should prioritize mental health support and interventions to address potential escalations in violence within households.

Furthermore, our results indicate that depression exhibits a positive association with violence. As individuals grapple with the impacts of the pandemic, such as job loss, financial strain, and social isolation, the prevalence of depression may increase. This finding underscores the urgent need for accessible mental health resources and support networks to address the heightened risk of violence stemming from increased levels of depression.

The study also reveals that health consciousness plays a crucial role in reducing violence within households. As individuals become more aware of the importance of maintaining their health amidst the pandemic, violence levels decrease. This suggests that promoting health awareness and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices can serve as protective factors against domestic violence. Public health initiatives and educational campaigns aimed at fostering health-conscious behaviors should be emphasized as part of comprehensive violence prevention strategies.

Interestingly, our analysis uncovers a mitigating effect of social media usage on violence levels during the pandemic. With the increased reliance on digital platforms for communication and information sharing, access to social media may provide individuals with alternative channels for expression and support, ultimately reducing the likelihood of violence. Recognizing the potential benefits of social media, policymakers and practitioners should explore ways to leverage these platforms to disseminate violence prevention resources, provide support, and promote positive social connections within households.

Additionally, our findings highlight the role of household chores and density in shaping violence levels during the pandemic. Less time spent on household chores is associated with decreased violence, indicating that redistributing domestic responsibilities may alleviate tension and conflict within households. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted routines and added new challenges to household dynamics, making it essential to consider strategies that promote equitable distribution of chores and support mechanisms for individuals and families.

Moreover, the positive association between household density and violence emphasizes the impact of living conditions during the pandemic. With prolonged periods of confinement and restricted mobility, crowded living spaces may intensify conflicts and escalate violence. Policymakers should prioritize initiatives that address housing conditions, promote safe and adequate living environments, and provide resources to mitigate the negative effects of overcrowding.

In this line, our study delves into the intricate relationship between household factors and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily within our specific context. However, it is valuable to consider how our findings align or diverge when juxtaposed with research from developed countries, where economic, social, and healthcare systems are typically more advanced. In developed countries, the impact of crises, such as the pandemic, could manifest differently due to varying levels of financial stability, access to support networks, and well-established healthcare systems.

For instance, while we observe that maintaining mental well-being serves as a protective factor against violence, developed countries might have better access to mental health resources and support networks, potentially magnifying the impact of positive mental health on violence prevention ( 58 ). Similarly, the positive association between health consciousness and reduced violence levels could be influenced by different perceptions of health and well-being in developed countries, where health awareness campaigns are more prevalent ( 51 ).

The mitigating effect of social media on violence levels during the pandemic might also vary across contexts. Developed countries might have more widespread and equitable access to digital platforms, leading to a stronger impact on violence reduction through alternative channels for communication and support ( 59 ). Conversely, regions with limited digital infrastructure could experience a smaller effect.

Additionally, comparing the role of religious affiliation and its influence on violence with findings from developed countries could reveal cultural variations in the interplay between religious teachings, gender dynamics, and violence ( 60 ). While our study suggests the need for interventions promoting peaceful religious interpretations, it is crucial to examine whether similar efforts have been successful in developed nations with distinct cultural norms and religious landscapes.

In this context, this study makes a significant contribution to the field of gender-based violence research by intricately examining the intersection of diverse socio-economic and psychological factors within the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The uniqueness of this article lies in its holistic approach to comprehend domestic violence dynamics amidst a global crisis. By dissecting and analyzing how mental health, health awareness, social media utilization, household chore distribution, living space density, and religious affiliation interact to influence violence levels, this study provides a deeper and nuanced insight into the factors contributing to the manifestation and prevention of gender-based violence. Moreover, by pinpointing areas where traditional gender norms and religious beliefs might exacerbate violence, the article suggests novel avenues for research and intervention development that account for cultural and contextual complexities. Ultimately, this work not only advances the understanding of gender-based violence during a critical period but also offers practical and theoretical recommendations to inform policies and preventive actions both throughout the pandemic and in potential future crises.

In considering the limitations of our study, we acknowledge that while our findings provide crucial insights into the role of religious affiliation in shaping violence levels during the pandemic, there are certain aspects that warrant further investigation. Firstly, our analysis primarily focuses on the association between religious beliefs and violence without delving deeply into the underlying mechanisms that drive this relationship. Future research could employ qualitative methodologies to explore how specific religious doctrines and practices interact with broader cultural norms to influence gender dynamics and contribute to violence within households. Additionally, our study does not extensively address variations in religious interpretations across different communities, which could lead to distinct outcomes in terms of violence prevention efforts. To address these limitations, scholars could conduct comparative studies across religious affiliations and denominations to uncover nuanced insights into the interplay between religious teachings, cultural contexts, and violence dynamics.

Furthermore, while our study suggests that policymakers and practitioners should consider developing targeted interventions promoting peaceful religious interpretations to mitigate violence, the precise design and effectiveness of such interventions remain areas ripe for exploration. Future research could involve collaboration with religious leaders and communities to develop and test intervention strategies that align with both religious teachings and contemporary gender equality principles. This interdisciplinary approach could yield actionable insights into fostering cultural change and enhancing the role of religion in promoting non-violence within households.

In conclusion, our study provides valuable insights into the dynamics of domestic violence within households during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings underscore the importance of addressing mental health, promoting health consciousness, leveraging social media, redistributing household chores, improving housing conditions, and considering the nuanced role of religious beliefs. By incorporating these findings into policy and intervention strategies, policymakers and practitioners can work toward preventing and mitigating domestic violence in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

Data availability statement

Author contributions.

CL played a crucial role in this research project, being responsible for the data collection, conducting the econometric analysis, contributing to the literature review, introduction, and discussion sections of the manuscript. JD-S made significant contributions to the project and assisted in the data collection process, contributed to the literature review, and provided insights in the discussion section. FV assisted with the data collection process and reviewed the article for accuracy and clarity. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

This project receives funding from Vicerrectorado de Investigación y Proyección Social, Escuela Politécnica Nacional.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


The authors acknowledge the Escuela Politécnica Nacional for this support on this project.

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Theoretical Explanation and Perspectives

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Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is a complex issue and it is important to understand how and why this happens. Such understanding can help find strategies to minimise DVA. Over past decades, many explanations have been proposed to explain DVA from various perspectives. This chapter aims to present an aggregated overview of that information to help healthcare professionals understand the phenomenon from a theoretical perspective. The chapter provides information about various perspectives including biological, psychological, sociological, and ecological frameworks.

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Ali, P., McGarry, J., Bradbury-Jones, C. (2020). Domestic Violence and Abuse: Theoretical Explanation and Perspectives. In: Ali, P., McGarry, J. (eds) Domestic Violence in Health Contexts: A Guide for Healthcare Professions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29361-1_2

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Editorial: new perspectives on domestic violence: from research to intervention.

\r\nLuca Roll*

  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Turin, Italy
  • 2 School of Health and Social Work, University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Editorial on the Research Topic New Perspectives on Domestic Violence: from Research to Intervention

In a document dated June 16th 2017, the United States Department of Justice stated that Domestic Violence (DV) has a significant impact not only on those abused, but also on family members, friends, and on the people within the social networks of both the abuser and the victim. In this sense, children who witness DV while growing up can be severely emotionally damaged. The European Commission (DG Justice) remarked in the Daphne III Program that 1 in 4 women in EU member states have been impacted by DV, and that the impact of DV on victims includes many critical consequences: lack of self-esteem, feeling shame and guilt, difficulties in expressing negative feelings, hopelessness and helplessness, which, in turn, lead to difficulties in using good coping strategies, self-management, and mutual support networks. In 2015 the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights affirmed that violence against women can be considered as a violation of human rights and dignity. Violence against women exists in each society and it can be related to any social, economic and cultural status and impact at the economic level. It includes physical, sexual, economic, religious, and psychological abuse.

Although men experience domestic violence by women, the rate of DV among women is much higher than that of men, especially in the category of being killed due to DV.

Recent studies have shown that between 13 and 61% of women (15–49 years old) report to have been physically abused at least once by an intimate partner. Domestic Violence takes place across different age groups, genders, sexual orientations, economic, or cultural statuses. However, DV remains largely under-reported due to fear of reprisal by the perpetrator, hope that DV will stop, shame, loss of social prestige due to negative media coverage, and the sense of being trapped with nowhere to go:

Hence, it is estimated that 90% of cases of DV continue to be identified as a non-denounced violence.

The aim of this Special Issue of Frontiers of Psychology is to gather updated scientific and multidisciplinary contributions about issues linked to domestic violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV). We encouraged contributions from a variety of areas including original qualitative and quantitative articles, reviews, meta-analyses, theories, and clinical case studies on biological, psycho-social and cultural correlates, risk and protective factors, and the associated factors related to the etiology, assessment, and treatment of both victims and perpetrators of DV.

We hope that this Special Issue will stimulate a better informed debate on Domestic Violence, in relation to its psychosocial impact (in and outside home, in school, and workplace), to DV prevention and intervention strategies (within the family and in society at large), in addition to specific types of DV, and to controversial issues in this field as well.

The Special Issue comprises both theoretical reviews and original research papers. 7 research papers, 6 reviews (policy and practice review, systematic review, review and mini-review) and 1 methodological paper are included.

The first section comprises 2 systematic review and 3 original research papers focused on factors associated with Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence/feminicide. Velotti et al. conducted a systematic review focused on the role of the attachment style on IPV victimization and perpetration. Several studies included failed to identify significant associations. The authors suggest to consider other variables (e.g., socioeconomic condition) that in interaction with attachment styles could explain the differences found between the studies. Considering the clinical contribution that these findings can provide to the treatment of IPV victims and perpetrators, future studies are needed. From a systematic review conducted by Gerino et al. focused on IPV in the “golden age” (old age), economic and educational conditions, younger age (55–69), membership in ethnic minorities, cognitive and physical impairment, substance abuse, cultural and social values, sexism and racism, were found as risk factors; depression emerged as risk factor and consequence of IPV. However, social support was identified as main protective factor. Also help-seeking behaviors and local/national services had a positively impact the phenomenon. Furthermore, the role of the parental communication was highlighted ( Rios-González et al. ) In that mothers encourage daughters to engage in relationship with ethical men, while removing from their representation attractive features and enhancing the double standard of viewing ethical man as unattractive vs. violent and attractive man. Fathers' communication directed toward young boys supports the dominant traditional masculinity, objectifying girls and emphasizing chauvinist values. These communicative dynamics impact males' behavior and females' choice of the partner while increasing the attraction toward violent men, and thus influencing the risk to be involved in IPV episodes.

Furthermore, factors associated with multiple IPV victimization by different partners were identified. From the study of Herrero et al. , experiencing child abuse emerged as a main predictor (“conditional partner selection process”). Similarly, adult victimization perpetrated by other than the intimate partner influences multiple IPV episodes. Moreover, this phenomenon is more frequent among younger women and those with lower income satisfaction. Length of relationship and greater psychological consequences to previous IPV are positively associated with multiple IPV episodes, while previous physical abuse is negatively related with subsequent victimization. The risk of multiple IPV episodes is reduced in countries with greater human development, suggesting the role of structural factors.

Regarding reasons of feminicide, passion motives assume the main role, followed by family problems, antisocial reasons, predatory crimes that comprise sexual component, impulsivity and mental disorders. The risk of overkilling episodes is higher when the perpetrator is known by the victim and when the murder is committed for passion reasons ( Zara and Gino ).

The second section includes papers focused on IPV/DV in particular contexts (one research paper, two reviews). Within separated couples, where conflicts are common, both men and women experience psychological aggression. However, some particularities emerged: women started to suffer of several kinds of psychological violence that was aimed to control (complicating the separation process), dehumanize and criticize them. Men report only few forms of violence experienced (likely due to the men's social position that narrows their disclosure opportunity), which mainly concern the limitation of the possibility to meet children ( Cardinali et al. ). Regarding same-sex couples ( Rollè et al. ), both similarities and differences in comparison with heterosexual couples emerged. IPV among LGB people is comparable or even higher than heterosexual episodes. Unique features present in same-sex IPV concern identification and treatment aspects, mainly due to the absence of solutions useful in addressing obstacles to help-seeking behaviors (related to fear of discrimination within LGB community), and the limitation of treatment programs tailored to the particularities of the LGB experience. Similarly, within First Nation's communities in Canada, IPV is a widespread phenomenon. However, the lack of preventing programs and the presence of intervention solutions that fail to address its cultural origins, limit the reduction of the problem and the recovery of victims. Klingspohn suggests the development of interventions capable to guarantee cultural safety and consequently to reduce discrimination and marginalization that Aboriginal people experience with mainstream health care system and which limit help-seeking behaviors.

The third section comprises two reviews and one research paper concerned with the impact of Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence. The systematic review conducted by Onwumere et al. highlighted the financial and emotional burden that violence perpetrated by psychotic patients entails for their informal carers (mainly close family relatives). Moreover, the authors identified within the studies included positive association between victimization and trauma symptoms, fear, and feeling of powerless and frustration.

Among people who suffered of Domestic Violence with a romantic or non-romantic partner who became their stalker, stalking victimization entails physical and emotive consequences for both male and female victims. Females suffered more than males of depressive and anxiety symptoms (although for both genders symptoms were minimal), while males experienced more anger. Furthermore, both genders adopted at least one “moving away” strategy in coping with stalking episodes, and the increasing of stalking behaviors determined a reduction in coping strategies use. This latter finding is likely to be due to the distress experienced ( Acquadro Maran and Varetto ).

Children abuse—which occurs often in Domestic Violence—results in emotional trauma as well as physical and psychological consequences that can negatively impact the learning opportunities. The school staff's ability to identify abuse signals and to refer to professionals constitute their main role. However, lack of skills and confidence among teachers regarding this function emerged, and further training for the school staff to increase support provided to abused children is needed ( Lloyd ).

Lastly, the fourth section includes two papers (one review and one methodological paper) that provide information on intervention and prevention programs and one research paper which contributes to the development and validation of the Willingness to Intervene in Cases of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women (WI-IPVAW) Scale. Gracia et al. The instrument demonstrated—both in the long and in its short form—high reliability and construct validity. The development of WI-IPVAW can contribute to the evaluation of the t role that can be played by people who are aware of the violence and understand attitudes toward IPV that can influence perpetrator's behavior and victim disclosure. The origin of violence within intimate relationship during adolescence calls for the development of preventive programs able to limit the phenomenon. The mini-review conducted by Santoro et al. highlighted the necessity to consider the relational structure where women are involved (history of poly-victimization re-victimization), and the domination suffered according to the gender model structured by the patriarchal context. Moreover, considering that violence can occur after separation or divorce, requires in child custody cases the evaluation of parenting and co-parenting relationship. This process can provide an opportunity to assess and treat some kind of violent behavior (Conflict-Instigated Violence, Violent Resistance, Separation-Instigated Violence). According to these consideration, Gennari et al. elaborated a model for clinical intervention (relational-intergenerational model) useful to address these issues during child custody evaluation. The model is composed of three levels aimed at understanding intergenerational exchange and identify factors that contribute to safeguard family relationship. This assessment process allows parents to reflect on information emerged during the evaluation process and activate resources useful to promote a constructive change of conflict dynamics and violent behaviors.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We would like to thanks all the authors and the reviewers who contributed to the present article collection, for their dedication to our topics and to their readiness to share their knowledge, and thus to increase the research in this field; KathWoodward, Specialty Chief Editor of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Studies that believed in our project, and to Dr. Tommaso Trombetta for his collaboration during last year.

Keywords: domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, intimate partner violence (IPV), gender violence against women, same sex intimate partner violence, systematic review, perpetrator and victim of violence, perpetrator

Citation: Rollè L, Ramon S and Brustia P (2019) Editorial: New Perspectives on Domestic Violence: From Research to Intervention. Front. Psychol. 10:641. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00641

Received: 25 February 2019; Accepted: 07 March 2019; Published: 28 March 2019.

Edited and reviewed by: Kath Woodward , The Open University, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2019 Rollè, Ramon and Brustia. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Luca Rollè, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Introduction, correlations and typologies, complex interdependencies, group 1 exemplar. victim was never substance dependent, group 2 exemplar. victim was desisting from substance use, group 3 exemplar. victim was substance dependent, discussion and conclusion.

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The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Dependency

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David Gadd, Juliet Henderson, Polly Radcliffe, Danielle Stephens-Lewis, Amy Johnson, Gail Gilchrist, The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Dependency, The British Journal of Criminology , Volume 59, Issue 5, September 2019, Pages 1035–1053, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azz011

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This article elucidates the dynamics that occur in relationships where there have been both substance use and domestic abuse. It draws interpretively on in-depth qualitative interviews with male perpetrators and their current and former partners. These interviews were undertaken for the National Institute for Health Research-funded ADVANCE programme. The article’s analysis highlights the diverse ways in which domestic abuse by substance-using male partners is compounded for women who have never been substance dependent, women who have formerly been substance dependent and women who are currently substance dependent. The criminological implications of the competing models of change deployed in drug treatment and domestic violence intervention are discussed alongside the policy and practice challenges entailed in reconciling them within intervention contexts where specialist service provision has been scaled back and victims navigate pressures to stay with perpetrators while they undergo treatment alongside the threat of sanction should they seek protection from the police and courts.

The 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill proposes to establish a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes ‘controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse’ encompassing ‘psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms of abuse’ ( HM Government, 2019 : 5). It proposes to widen the scope of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders so that suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse can be compelled to attend ‘drug or alcohol treatment’, as well as ‘behavioural change’ programmes by the family courts (if petitioned by victims or other relevant third parties, such as non-governmental organizations) and magistrates courts (where the police would normally petition) (ibid. Explanatory Note Clause 3: 128). It is proposed that compliance with such orders will be secured in part through electronic monitoring. Breaches of such orders will be a criminal offence, punishable by up to ‘five years’ imprisonment, unlimited fine or both’ (ibid. 30).

The Bill is informed by a prolonged consultation in which over 3,200 responses were received by government and expert opinion—primarily from organizations representing victims and survivors of domestic abuse and stalking—was submitted to two Home Affairs Committees ( House of Commons, 2018 ). Cross-party support for the Bill was secured: as politicians registered the volume of domestic abuse cases raised with them by constituents; amidst news that the daughter of an MP had committed suicide following a relationship in which she suffered psychological—but not physical—torment that caused her to fear that she was mentally ill ( Elgot, 2018 ); and during a campaign by David Challen to enable his mother to appeal her conviction for murdering his coercively controlling father ( Moore, 2018 ). In strengthening the prohibition of ‘coercive control’ ( Home Office, 2015 : 2)—a concept advanced by Stark (2007 : i) to explain ‘how men entrap women in personal life’ through ‘intimate terrorism’—the Bill can be read as a logical extension of three decades of Conservative party policy that conceives the criminalization of a dangerous minority of men who abuse ‘very vulnerable women and girls’ to be a key part of the solution to domestic abuse ( Heidensohn, 1995 ; Gadd, 2012 ). But this Bill was conceived within a more nuanced policy agenda than its predecessors. In the initial consultation document Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse, which sought views on a raft of new measures, the then-Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and Justice Secretary, David Gauke, called for policy that (1) recognizes that both ‘women and men are victims of domestic abuse’, though ‘a disproportionate number of victims are women, especially in the most severe cases’ ( HM Government, 2018 : 3); (2) ‘actively empowers victims, communities and professionals to confront and challenge’ domestic abuse; and (3) reduces regional variation in the quality of ‘services to help victims’ and ‘punish and rehabilitate offenders’ (ibid, our emphases). This receptivity to the rehabilitative ambitions of health and social care professionals derived principally from the findings of domestic homicide and serious case reviews (ibid, p21), which reveal the pertinence of a ‘toxic trio’ of domestic abuse, mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems in cases where women or children are killed ( Brandon et al., 2010 ; Robinson et al., 2018 ), and how substance use features in around half of intimate partners homicides in the United Kingdom ( Home Office, 2016 ). Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse followed suit, highlighting the ‘complex needs’ of those living with ‘drug and alcohol misuse, offending, mental illness and poverty’ ( HM Government, 2018 : 10); domestic abuse ‘victims’ with ‘problematic drug use’ (p24); ‘survivors… who have children on child protection plans’ (p28); ‘women at risk of having their children removed’ (p28); ‘female offenders’ who have also ‘experienced domestic abuse’ (p31); and male ‘perpetrators’, who are too often depicted in terms of the ‘stereotype’ of a ‘drunk… who… loses control and assaults their partner’ (p11). Such ‘simplistic’ depictions were debunked for failing to ‘reflect… the complex reality and lived experience of victims’ and impervious to the ‘dynamics of power and control which are present in many abusive relationships’ (ibid. pp11 and 12). They had previously been challenged by official drugs policy that committed to supporting the disproportionate number of ‘intimate partner violence’ victims and perpetrators accessing substance misuse services ( HM Government, 2017 ).

This article responds to this call to redress the dynamics of power that occur in relationships where substance use and domestic abuse co-occur. We contribute to such an understanding through the presentation of three couple dyads—each comprising a male perpetrator and his female partner—interviewed in-depth for the UK National Institute for Health Research funded Advancing theory and treatment approaches for males in substance use treatment who perpetrate intimate partner violence (ADVANCE) programme 1 . Our conclusion returns to the challenges the 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill poses to policy, practice and criminological theorizing.

Evidence for the relationship between domestic abuse and drug and alcohol intoxication is plentiful in crime surveys but tends to focus, peculiarly, on the behaviour of victims more often than offenders. For example, the 2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales revealed that ‘adults aged between 16 and 59 who had taken illicit drugs in the last year’ were three times more likely to report ‘being a victim of partner abuse’ than those who had not done so ( ONS, 2016 : 25). However, using illicit drugs does not invite assault and the identification of such ‘risk factors’ in the absence of explanation of their relevance accentuates the victim-blaming some perpetrators deploy to control their victims ( Gadd et al., 2014 ). The international evidence reveals that men, but not women, tend to perpetrate more severe assaults when they have been drinking ( Graham et al., 2011 ; Reno et al., 2010 ). Women are more vulnerable to assault when they too are intoxicated, but this is at least partly because those living with abusers are less diligent at pursuing safety strategies when they have been drinking ( Iverson et al., 2013 ). Substance use features in around half of all UK domestic homicides. Since 2011, substance use has been detected among domestic homicide perpetrators more than four times as often as it has among those killed by them ( Home Office, 2016 )

In sum, the relationship between substance use and domestic abuse is not straightforward. Moreover, Different substances have different pharmacological properties. They are used in variable quantities and combinations fostering a range of effects—including docility as much as aggression—that are contingent upon the user’s experience of them, prehistory of use, mood and the context in which the consumption takes place ( Zinberg, 1984 ; Gilchrist et al., 2019 ). Laboratory research reveals that those with low levels of inhibition, empathy and self-regulation and elevated levels of sensitivity to threats and insults (‘instigative cues’) are more prone to violence when they have consumed alcohol up to four hours ahead of a perceived threat or ‘provocation’ ( Leonard and Quiqley, 2017 ). Cocaine consumption can induce similar reactions. Like cannabinoids and opiates—the effects of which are rarely studied in the context of aggression or violence—cocaine can also alleviate anxiety and exacerbate underlying problems with depression, paranoia and hallucinations ( Sacks et al., 2009 ). Consequently, regular use of such drugs, like the consumption of excessive alcohol, can impinge upon mental well-being and intimacy, generating indirect and belated relationships between victimization and substance use that extend far beyond periods of intoxication.

Feminist scholarship on domestic abuse has tended not to engage with the pharmacological impacts of substance use and has focussed instead on how some abusive men retain power over women by attributing their violence to intoxication, by insisting that their drinking caused them to act out of character, or by denying any memory of assaults perpetrated when intoxicated ( Hearn, 1998 ; MacKay, 1996 ). Evaluations of interventions for perpetrators have thus needed to be alert to the ways in which substance use is invoked to minimize violence. Women’s accounts of victimization have had to take precedence over men’s self-reported offending as measure of changes given the potential for such minimization ( Dobash et al., 1999 ). But as Stark’s (2007) review of officially reported ‘intimate terrorism’ cases illustrates, substance can also be implicated in the perpetration of ‘coercive control’ and victims’ responses to it. His analyses reveal that some victims do self-medicate to manage the depression the daily anticipation of violence engenders and that some perpetrators control victims by increasing their dependence on substances before restricting their access to them. Finally, Stark highlights that some women who have been terrorized over many years take matters into their own hands after the law has failed to protect them, mounting grievous attacks on perpetrators when they are too intoxicated to retaliate.

Typological research on men’s domestic abuse perpetration has also addressed the role of drugs and alcohol anecdotally. For example, Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) suggest that there are three distinct types of male domestic abuse perpetrator, one of which—the ‘antisocial batterer’—is defined by their dependence on drugs and alcohol, engagement in crime and paternalistic values. The other two groups, they propose, include ‘family only batterers’ who are seemingly ‘normal’ men who are violent at home and conventional in their sexism; and ‘emotionally dysphoric batterers’ with clinically diagnosable ‘borderline personality disorders’ who tend to be overtly misogynistic, especially when their relationships are failing, or they distrust the fidelity of their partners. Yet, what the relationship is between substance use and violence for the antisocial batterer remains untheorized in Holzworth and colleagues’ tests of their typology ( Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 2000 ). This is despite clinical evidence suggesting that drug use and violence co-occur most among men with diagnosed mental health issues, poor concentration and problems understanding and remembering their pasts ( Sacks et al., 2009 ). In relation to ‘family only’ perpetrators, Johnson et al. (2014 : 65) suggest that this group is more likely to be involved in ‘situational couple’ and ‘separation-instigated’ violence that is more ‘gender-symmetrical’, and derivative of arguments over domestic matters, finances, childcare or ‘objections to the other partner’s excessive drinking’ that evolve into ‘fights’. For this subgroup of ‘family only perpetrators’, the link between alcohol consumption and domestic abuse may have more to do with everyday conflicts than personality traits, though the difference between them and intimate terrorists can be overdrawn ( Gadd and Corr, 2017 ). Sociologically speaking, control ‘is a continuum. Everyone controls their partner to some extent’ ( Johnson, 2008 : 87), begging the question as to when and why the desire to control becomes pertinent.

Answers to this question can be found in the few qualitative studies that explore how drugs and alcohol feature in the relationships of couples living with domestic abuse. These reveal that some perpetrators pose greater risks to their partners, not when they are high, but when they are irritable, withdrawing or are struggling to finance alcohol or drug purchases ( Gilchrist et al., 2019 ). One exemplar is Hydén’s (1994) study of middle-class Swedish couples reported to the police for domestic abuse. Follow-up interviews with 20 couples where alcohol consumption was noted by the police revealed that, although drunkenness and its expense were the source of many arguments that led to violence, social drinking, especially at parties, was also what held some relationships together. Afterwards, some couples reconciled on the basis that it was the alcohol that caused the conflict. They asserted that the perpetrator was normally a ‘good person’ who could be helped. Men who had caused injuries when intoxicated often claimed they could only recall feeling hurt—sometimes in ways that reminded them of painful experiences in their pasts—by female partners who criticized them or acted aggressively towards them and not the assaults they themselves had perpetrated.

Evidence of the relevance of emotional pain can also be found in Motz’s (2014) case analyses of couples in therapy. This reveals how some women who had been abused or neglected as children attempted to cope with feelings of vulnerability ‘through the creation of highly dependent relationships with men who… offer… protection, and through getting into states of mind where these feelings can be pushed away… through drugs or alcohol’ (p69). Motz depicts the emotionally impoverished lives of abusive men with whom some drug-using women cohabit, many of whom feared abandonment because of experiences of abuse, neglect or institutional care. Some of these men had ‘little capacity to tolerate emotional intimacy’ (p93) and thus found it ‘impossible to relate’ to their families or sexual partners unless ‘high on drugs’ (p93). Over time, Motz suggests, these couples became ‘doubly dangerous’, leaving their children uncared for when intoxicated, withdrawing or fighting, and unable to ‘come together safely’ in an emotionally connected way to ‘manage and contain distress’ afterwards (p158). ‘Toxic couples’, Motz argues, deny their own dependencies and instead project them onto each other, leading them to view their partners as more out of control than they are. For some men such projection amounted to ‘a fantasized attempt at creating a state of invulnerability and absolute control’ (ibid) when their own lives are in disarray.

Evidence of this kind of ‘splitting’—where good and bad, safe and dangerous, vulnerable and invulnerable, qualities in the self or other are imagined as irreconcilably polarized—upon which such projective processes rely, can also be found in Gilbert and colleagues’ (2001) focus-group study of women enrolled in North American methadone programmes. Participants described how altercations materialized rapidly when high on crack cocaine or when drunk, as intoxication induced paranoid sexual jealousy that led to hostile accusations by men who became like ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. When withdrawing from heroin, some men attacked their partners for failing to provide money for drugs, some women cited ‘irritability’ as explanations for their own use of violence towards their partners when intoxicated or withdrawing, meanwhile others emphasized that drunkenness intensified their male partners’ criticism of them for failing to fulfill household tasks. Some women described engaging in prostitution to raise money for drugs as evidence of their love and care for male partners. When the women subsequently refused to raise funds in this way or sought support from professionals to reduce their own drug use, some male perpetrators threatened further violence whereas others encouraged them to relapse back onto heroin or crack, thus entrapping stigmatized and socially isolated women in relationships with them.

In what follows, we expand the argument for a more relationally sensitive analysis of the dynamics of power that pertain in the lives of couples where domestic abuse towards a partner occurs alongside substance use. Such analyses, we argue, need to be attuned to the gendered power dynamics of drug use and domestic abuse: dynamics that may be reciprocal even while unequal; financial, emotional and pharmacological; involve violence that is perceived as ‘situational’ by one partner and ‘coercively controlling’ by the other; and recalled as involving movements between intimacy and distance among the exchange of insults and assaults, craving for drink and drugs, intoxication and withdrawal. We seek to illustrate these points by drawing on dyad interviews—with male perpetrators in treatment for substance use problems together with their current and former female partners—undertaken for the ADVANCE programme.

The ADVANCE programme seeks to develop and test an integrated intimate partner violence and substance use group intervention that will reduce intimate partner abuse perpetrated by men receiving substance misuse treatment. We report here on the programme’s preparatory workstream. This involved interviewing male domestic abuse perpetrators receiving treatment for substance use and their current or former partners about their relationships and support needs. Adult men were recruited from six community-based substance use treatment services in London and the West Midlands. The treatment services were for people who regarded themselves as ‘substance dependent’, typically because they regarded their drug and alcohol usage as ‘compulsive’, necessary to deal with problems, taking up a lot of time and energy, costing more than they could legitimately afford, and/or very difficult to stop 2 .

Seventy men were screened for lifetime domestic abuse against a partner. Men who currently had court orders preventing contact with their (ex)partners were excluded. Forty-seven of the 70 men screened were eligible, and 37 of these 47 men were then interviewed. Male interviewees were asked to provide contact details of their current or former female partners, and in 14 cases these women were interviewed. All participants were advised that there were limits to the confidentiality that could be afforded where unaddressed risks of harm and safeguarding issues were disclosed. Women and men were always interviewed by different researchers to ensure no information was inadvertently shared between participants. Participants were paid £20 to compensate for their time.

Interviews were undertaken using reflective techniques derived from the Free Association Narrative Interview Method ( Hollway and Jefferson, 2000 ), with participants being supported through active listening to tell the stories of their drug use, relationships, domestic abuse and intervention experiences. Digital recordings of the interviews were transcribed verbatim and transcriptions were checked twice for errors. Timelines were created to track the sequence of events through the life of each participant. Case studies were then written-up as ‘pen portraits’, which sought to capture the complexity revealed in each interview, including apparent contradictions, avoidances and implausible claims. In the 14 cases where both partners were interviewed, men’s and women’s accounts were compared with each other. Although all of the perpetrators interviewed could have been coded as ‘antisocial’ in Holtzworth-Munroe’s (2000) terms, given their drug use and criminal histories, such categorization would oversimplify matters. All but two of the men depicted their violence as situational and/or a product of some form of mutual combat, whereas all but one of their partners depicted coercively controlling abuse, to which around half the women responded with some degree of violent resistance. In terms of their drug use, the 14 men who were interviewed with their partners appeared to be broadly comparable with the other 23 whose partners were not interviewed ( Table 1 ). The majority used heroin with other illicit substances, notably crack cocaine and/or powder cocaine, though some also mixed benzodiazepines with alcohol. Nine out of the 14 were also heavy drinkers. Five of the 14 men also described medical or psychological diagnosis consistent with emotional dysphoria. Eight males disclosed perpetrating violence that was extra-familial in addition to their abuse of partners. Contact with children had, at some point or other, been restricted for all the men in the study.

Self-reported substance use within the sample

Given the high degree of similarity among the men on key variables, we explored if more meaningful distinctions could be drawn by distinguishing the dyads in terms of whether victims had ever used drugs and, if they had, whether they were desisting from substance use or still using. Only four of the women described themselves as substance dependent at the time of the interviews. Five had never been substance dependent, and another five were desisting from substance use, either having become completely abstinent from using or having only had temporary relapses. A three-fold distinction could thus be drawn across the dyads that revealed some important variations in terms of how domestic abuse and substance use manifested themselves.

Group 1. Victim had never been substance dependent ( n = 5)

Within the sample, there were five couples where the female partner had never been substance dependent, though all the women interviewed drank alcohol socially, and one smoked cannabis occasionally. Women in this group had almost no involvement in crime. Four of these women had never been separated from their children, but one woman had children who had been required to live with their grandfather as she would not leave her abusive partner. These non-substance dependent women were typically confused as to why relationships that had started out well had suddenly deteriorated; why their partners engaged in unexplained and peculiar behaviours; and why they had accused them of unfounded infidelities while lying about their own substance use and/or the criminal activity that generally supported it.

Group 2. Victim was desisting from substance use ( n = 5)

Within the sample, there were five couples where the female partner had abstained from using drugs or alcohol, having previously been substance dependent. None of these women had criminal convictions. The stories these desisting women told tended to be of intimacy lost. Sharing feelings and traumas that motivated drug use, and about what made it difficult to give up, had generated understanding and closeness when they had first met their partners. Conflicts had then developed when the men resumed drug use or drinking whereas the women were trying to reduce their own or abstain. Only two of the women in this group had children of their own. In both cases, these women had raised their own children, but with some intermittent professional oversight.

Group 3. Victim was substance dependent ( n = 4)

Within the sample, there were four couples where both the male perpetrator and the female victim were both currently substance dependent. All the women in this group used crack cocaine and heroin to varying degrees. Though they sometimes mentioned love, they often explained their persistence with relationships that had become abusive in terms of daily needs for protection, somewhere to live and the sharing of drugs. The women in this group had much more frequent and entrenched patterns of criminal involvement than the other 10 in the sample. Their criminal involvement activities included shoplifting, petty frauds and prostitution to finance their drug use, typically with encouragement from male partners who relied, to some extent, upon the income the women generated. All four women in this group had been separated from their children when these children were young, though two women had re-established relationships with their children in adulthood.

In what follows, we present one couple from each of these groups to further illustrate the different power dynamics that can pertain in relationships where domestic abuse and substance use co-occur. Italics are used to highlight points where the participants emphasized a relationship between substance use and domestic abuse.

Wayne (early thirties) and Rhian (late twenties) met while she was managing a pub where he drank, sometimes ‘heavily’, during the ‘daytime’. She had never cohabited with a partner before, but he already had a child with another woman and had served at least six prison sentences, two for ‘kidnap’ of his own child. By Rhian’s account, when they first met three years before, the relationship ‘progressed really quickly’: ‘within a couple of weeks’ Wayne was staying in her flat. By Wayne’s account, he and Rhian visited the grave of his grandfather before spending the night together. After that, Wayne said, he ‘couldn’t get rid’ of Rhian: he ‘loved her to bits’ and their relationship was ‘proper good’ for 18 months until he began to ‘blag’ money from her to buy heroin. Rhian’s account, by contrast, was recollected more as an unfolding nightmare, in which she did not know why Wayne was being so controlling until after their baby was born when he revealed he was getting treatment for heroin dependency.

Rhian recalled that Wayne first assaulted her within a couple of months of moving in. After a drink with friends and not knowing that she was already pregnant, Rhian felt ill and went to bed. When Wayne returned home, he became ‘very argumentative’, ‘coming right’ in her ‘face’, accusing her, without foundation, of sleeping with someone else. Rhian wanted to end the relationship then, but Wayne was profusely apologetic, convincing her to keep the baby and get their ‘own place’, explaining his life was ‘empty’ before they met. Wayne provided a detailed account of the emptiness he felt. His mother, who was separated from his father, had worked nights in a pub, leaving her children ‘home alone’ to run ‘wild’. In her absence, Wayne began smoking ‘weed’ regularly. He had ‘weird thoughts’ and would pick fights with anybody , feeling no ‘remorse’ afterwards. Wayne’s mother sought help but did not receive any. Instead, Wayne became abusive to her, ‘calling her a slag’, threatening to hit her when she took his brother’s side, and constantly ‘smashing her house up’. Invited by his cousin to ‘smoke’ heroin to ‘forget’ his grief’ after his grandmother’s funeral, Wayne claimed his clandestine usage escalated from there, Rhian erroneously assuming he was cheating on her, doing nothing to ‘help’ him come to terms with his loss, and causing him to cheat on her. As a ‘druggie’, Wayne said, he became unable to show Rhian ‘affection’ or ‘love anybody’ , including himself.

Wayne’s accusations of infidelity caused Rhian much distress while his behaviour became more erratic and threatening, ‘his jaw… going and his eyes’ being ‘wired’ . He smashed Rhian’s phone because he was ‘convinced’ that he had ‘seen someone’s name’ on the screen. Though their relationship was ‘over’ during most of her pregnancy, Rhian ‘literally couldn’t go anywhere’ without Wayne constantly ‘phoning’ and ‘texting’ her, questioning her about what money she had spent, and sometimes barricading her in the house until she asked his mother to come and get him. After a nurse overheard Wayne discussing drugs on his phone during one of the few antenatal appointments he attended, Rhian took the opportunity to ask him what it was about because she was concerned that social services would see a child protection risk for her baby. Wayne responded by calling Rhian a ‘sick’ ‘liar’ and insisted that it was she, not drugs, that was ‘driving’ him ‘crazy’ .

Wayne apologized after their son was born and claimed that holding the baby inspired him to ‘change’. He and Rhian then took, what she recalled was, a ‘perfect’ family holiday together in which he explained that he had been prescribed Subutex (buprenorphine), a semi-synthetic opioid used to treat heroin dependence . Wanting her son to be raised by two parents, Rhian agreed to let Wayne move back in, but when his drug use resumed, he became ‘physically aggressive again’ . Rhian recounted three occasions when Wayne throttled her, once asking her to put the baby in another room so the child would not see, and on another occasion putting a knife to Rhian’s throat and rationalizing, ‘You’re killing me… So, I should … make it look like you killed yourself’. Sometimes Wayne would speed off, with their baby in the back of the car, in a hurry to buy drugs. Other times, he locked Rhian in the flat for days because he suspected she was ‘cheating’ and feared she would leave him. The violence only ceased, Rhian said, when Wayne called the police on himself after pinning her down and grabbing her by the neck. Rhian said she was pressurized by the police to make a statement against Wayne, but that the case was withdrawn when he made a fraudulent counter-accusation and a friend of his posted content on Rhian’s Facebook page, as if by her, purportedly confessing. Wayne, by contrast, only recalled one assault explaining they ‘didn’t argue a lot’ partly because his ‘mind wasn’t there’ . He admitted driving off with the baby because he was in a ‘rush’ to get drugs but insisted the argument occurred only on his return when Rhian, who thought ‘she was more powerful than everybody else’, punched him ‘in the chest’ to stop him leaving again. In response, Wayne claimed, he had ‘moved’ Rhian by the ‘face’ because she ‘wouldn’t let’ him leave and was ‘kicking’ his ‘legs’ and because he knew he ‘would have ended up battering’ her as he did not always know what he was doing when ‘on heroin’ . Wayne was thus surprised to later be awoken by ‘two police officers’ who arrested him, but relieved when the courts concluded that Rhian had lied, and pleased that, post the break-up, he had been able to access some support for the mental health problems that had been troubling him since his childhood.

Mitchel (early fifties) and June (mid-forties) were in a relationship for over 15 years. They met while in residential rehabilitation for heroin dependence when they both were ‘emotionally raw’. Mitchel felt the ‘deepest love’ for June when they met. June thought she had ‘met her soulmate’: an ‘affectionate’ man with whom she had much ‘empathy’ given his ‘horrendous’ experiences of ‘child abuse’; a man who helped her overcome the death of her son’s (also heroin-using) father. As a teenager, Mitchel too had found ‘comfort’ in heroin use after he was sexually abused by his brother and his brother’s friends while their mother, was out ‘trying to find somebody to love her’ . As a child, June was repeatedly coerced into having sex by a man who threatened to report her to social services for caring for her siblings while her mother received hospital treatment. June said that as a university student, she lacked the social skills to say ‘no’ when she was introduced to heroin. When she became pregnant, she weaned herself off it but relapsed when her mother accused her of inviting the sexual abuse she was subjected to as a child. Having taken heroin to ‘bury’ the ‘hurt’ this accusation inflicted, June self-referred into drug rehabilitation for two years so she could raise her son in an environment in which her desistance from drugs was effectively managed . From Mitchel’s perspective, problems in their relationship emerged after they left the residential rehabilitation. June, he said, was ‘damaged goods’: ‘although the love was there’ she was ‘frigid’. He pursued sex with a woman called Rose and hoped that ‘the three of’ them ‘could love each other’, introducing both women to crack cocaine to facilitate this. But, according to Mitchel, the ‘resentments grew’, until June became pregnant and began ‘hounding’ him to commit to her, even though she knew he ‘loved’ Rose ‘more’, trapping him, paradoxically, in a sexless relationship by becoming pregnant. Owing money to a crack cocaine dealer, Mitchel said, he and June fled to his mother’s house for a ‘fresh start’, during which they could cease using drugs and get their own place.

June, by contrast, made no mention of a polyamorous relationship and said that she had remained ‘clean’ of drugs for a decade after leaving the rehabilitation centre while Mitchel’s drug use resumed . Thereafter, she said, Mitchel would constantly ‘put’ her ‘down and compare’ her to another woman. She said that while the heroin would ‘subdue’ Mitchel, when drunk he became ‘aggressive and arrogant, looking for a problem’ . This abusiveness heightened during her pregnancy; a time when she felt increasingly ‘isolated’ and ‘insecure’. The ‘fresh start’ she had been promised never materialized though this was partly because she started drinking heavily, blurring the line between his ‘put downs’ and her responses to them . Drinking, June said, helped her tolerate Mitchel’s ‘screaming’, but sometimes he was determined to escalate arguments, once pouring a bucket of water over her while in bed. When Mitchell returned from university, where his relationship with Rose had resumed, June said he ‘was drinking pints of vodka’ as well as using heroin while undertaking odd jobs for cash, and that she would come home from work to find him ‘asleep’ in front of ‘a plate full of heroin and needles’ while the children played unsupervised . June said that when she ‘confronted’ Mitchel, he ‘cleared’ out her bank account, leaving her reliant on money borrowed from her mother to provide food for the family. Feeling ‘depressed’, ‘trapped’ and defeated’, June began using heroin again.

Mitchel made no mention of these incidents but said June had become domineering about domestic matters when he returned from university. ‘ Violence’ became their ‘means’ of ‘communication’ at this time with him threatening to hit her ‘back’ when she ‘lashed out’. June explained that she had once hit Mitchel in retaliation, whacking him ‘with a folder’ when he lent her car to an unqualified driver and the police questioned her about it. Mitchel responded, she said, by ‘kicking’ her ‘from the head up’, breaking her jaw, causing her unforgettable pain. June said she lay on top of her son to protect him when Mitchel went ‘ballistic’ because the boy had failed to clear up the kitchen after making his own lunch. June conceded that she ‘hit’ Mitchel ‘right back’. Mitchel said he regretted hitting June ‘like a man’, clarifying that normally he would ‘just’ hit her back with an ‘open hand slap’, but that on this occasion she ‘came at’ him, creating an ‘explosion’ before having a ‘breakdown’, perplexingly ‘terrified’ of him.

The police attended but arrested neither of them as they had both been drinking . So, June said, she tried to leave for a friend’s house with the children and eyes that were too swollen to open, but Mitchel kicked and beat her again. After a period in hospital, June said June contacted a drugs and alcohol dependency team who put her on a methadone programme, but Mitchel started taking the methadone because he feared he would lose the house and his children if June recovered. June’s version was that she only succeeded in leaving Mitchel after she awoke to find him ‘forcing’ tablets down her ‘throat’, to make it look as if she had killed herself by overdose. Mitchel made no mention of this attempted murder but explained how bitter he was that June secured a court order that prohibited him from seeing the children merely because he had made the ‘ mistake’ of buying a very large ‘bag’ of heroin and despite always having done the hoovering and cooking ‘for them’.

Joe (mid-thirties) and Kate (late twenties) had been together for six years. A week after having met in the streets and gone out for a drink , Kate arrived at Joe’s house with just a suitcase and never left. Kate had been sexually assaulted both as a child and as a teenager and was estranged from her family. Joe, whose parents were both deceased, was sexually abused while in care and was estranged from his siblings. Kate’s children lived exclusively with her previous partner, their father, because of Kate’s alcoholism. Joe had been a heavy drinker since his molestation and had served multiple prison sentences: two for attacking men he had seen ‘touch up’ women without their consent and one for assaulting Kate. All but one of Joe’s many previous relationships had involved violence, some grievous and directed at him, but for which he had often been arrested, leading him to the conclusion that ‘it is really sexist out there’: ‘there’s one rule for blokes and one rule for women’.

Despite being ‘frightened of men’, Kate initially found Joe ‘really nice’. She said he ‘spoilt’ her and did ‘sweet’ things, taking her to restaurants and bringing her flowers. They both emphasized that they had loved each other, though Kate said she struggled to ‘handle’ Joe’s attention and was sometimes ‘mouthy’ and ‘hateful’ towards him when drunk, merely to elicit a different ‘reaction’ . From Joe’s perspective, however, ‘every argument’ was ‘about drugs and money’ . He understood that Kate was using drugs —something she barely disclosed in her interview—‘ to block out the pain’ of her past, but the drug use had affected their sex life , while chronic pancreatitis had left her with ‘only… a few years left to live’. Joe did not like Kate ‘clipping’ —‘robbing’ men she deceived into believing they would have sex with her—to fund their drug use and wanted her to steal from supermarkets instead. He said he worried that Kate would be raped or killed by men she had clipped and that he had lost teeth defending her from men she had tricked. Joe admitted being ‘jealous’ and afraid that Kate was ‘cheating on’ on him, though he knew she was not ‘a slag’ despite ‘acting’ like ‘one’. Joe considered himself to be no longer ‘alcohol reliant’, having given up spirits, but claimed that he became ‘addicted’ to heroin a year ago, trying it to show Kate he could ‘understand’ what it was like for her . Heroin withdrawal had been the real ‘devil’ for Joe, leaving him unable to ‘walk’ at times, ‘depressed’ and vulnerable to a descending ‘red mist’ that he claimed rendered his temper uncontrollable . Joe commenced a Subutex prescription during his most recent prison sentence which, since his release, he had shared with Kate to ‘make sure that she ain’t sick’ (i.e., suffering withdrawal symptoms), sometimes also using heroin or crack cocaine in addition to his prescription.

From Kate’s perspective, however, Joe’s protectiveness could be ‘suffocating’. She explained that although Joe initially ‘understood’ how her childhood experiences of the sexual violence affected her, his capacity for understanding was now contingent on whether she had sex with him. He now treated her like a ‘child’ and ‘as his’ property and feared he ‘could kill’ her in an ‘accidental angry’ moment. When coming down from being high or drunk, Joe was often ‘controlling’ and could ‘switch very easily with anyone’. Kate explained that previously, when Joe had been smoking crack, he assaulted a ‘pervert’ who had touched Kate ‘in an inappropriate way’. After he had finished assaulting the ‘pervert’ Joe proceeded to strangle and batter Kate, breaking some of her ribs. Hence, Kate avoided doing anything ‘sudden’ that would make Joe ‘paranoid’, despite having invited him to ‘just fucking kill’ her rather than keep ‘terrifying’ her. After ‘days’ of ‘not sleeping and just drinking’, Joe tried to provoke an argument . When Kate walked away, he mimed ‘putting bullets’ in her head, so she ‘pushed him away’ and he ‘punched’ her. While Joe was in prison for this assault, Kate twice attempted suicide. She continued to blame herself for his violence and drank alcohol ‘to feel happy’ while questioning whether it was ‘really’ her ‘fault’ that Joe was so ‘messed up’, as he has claimed. Joe, by contrast, claimed Kate had hit him ‘over the head with a hammer’ because he ‘wouldn’t buy her drugs’ and explained that the assault on her, for which he went to prison, occurred after she ‘slapped’ him ‘round the head’ because he did not ‘have… money for drugs’. It was unfortunate, he said, that the police drove past just as he was hitting ‘her back’ in ‘self-defence’. Though Kate said she ‘loves’ Joe ‘to death’ she doubted whether the ‘damage’ to their relationship could be ‘mended’. He , by contrast, was desperate ‘to get her clean’, as he imagined this would enable him to get his own ‘life back’. Joe assumed that if Kate became sober enough to see her children again, it would save his relationship with her from ‘ruin’.

In this article, we have presented three relationship scenarios where domestic abuse pertained alongside drug or alcohol dependency. These relationships diverged primarily in terms of the female partners’ histories of drug and alcohol consumption as all men were in treatment for substance dependence. All three men—like the majority of those interviewed in the ADVANCE project—considered ‘drugs’, their own and/or their partner’s use of them to have damaged or ruined their relationships. Their depictions of violence as ‘isolated incidents’ in which they were only partially culpable were consistent with perpetrators’ accounts more generally ( Stark, 2007 ; Women’s Aid, 2018 ; Gilchrist et al., 2019 ). Wayne, Mitchel and Joe all described discrete, regrettable and unplanned assaults that derived from everyday conflicts over alcohol and drug use, financial pressures, sexual jealousies and domestic chores: conflicts that were sometimes accentuated by being intoxicated. Nevertheless, the stories these men told suggested that their need to control became increasingly acute when their relationships were in crisis, when they had secrets to keep, when they felt dependent on drugs or alcohol, were afraid of losing their minds, their partners and their children, when money was scarce, and when homelessness and criminalization were distinct possibilities. As these men projected this sense of being in disarray onto their partners, the women began to feel like they were being driven crazy, in part because they did not have full knowledge of the drug and alcohol use that was consuming the men’s time and minds. As the women began to question what was happening, the men’s attempts to coercively control became more dangerous and desperate, e.g., in the refusal to let partners leave their homes or in their efforts to tempt or coerce the women into consuming drugs. Despite their unhappiness, these men, like their partners, often lacked the emotional strength and economic resources required to separate ( Walby and Towers, 2018 ). Instead, the men often blamed discrete incidents of violence, as they construed them, on drugs and/or money-related issues that could be fixed if they entered treatment and their partners were prepared to fight for the relationship, for the sake of children whose well-being had not been paramount (to the men) previously.

By contrast, Rhian, June and Kate, described steadily accumulating patterns of abuse, forgiven initially as promises of fresh starts, either in new places or after drug treatment, were made. The women’s reasons for enduring domestic abuse or for giving the men another chance began with this hope for change but often mutated as they encountered the financial and emotional difficulties of leaving homes, the prospect of losing their children (forever in Kate’s case) and the concomitant risk of criminalization when the men threatened to report them for hitting back or for using drugs. Hence, the reasons these women stayed were complexly configured around drug and alcohol use. Wayne’s abusive behaviour had proved confusing to Rhian, who knew only that he was a heavy drinker until his heroin use was confirmed after their baby was born. Then, as someone with little experience of either drugs or relationships, Rhian was persuaded to give Wayne another chance while he sought drug treatment, assuming mistakenly that this would redress his violence. June, by contrast, had some empathy with Mitchel, having relapsed with heroin herself and recognizing that her own drinking contributed to their arguments. June had been persuaded that moving might facilitate a fresh start, without drug use. However, when June sought opioid substitution treatment for herself, Mitchel found a new way of controlling her, diminishing her capacity to leave by controlling her access to her prescription and then trying to administer an overdose. The challenges for Kate were different again. She had a long history of heavy alcohol consumption and illicit drug use, the latter of which Joe had joined in with, compounding their mutual dependence on shoplifting and pseudo-sex work to maintain their supplies. Joe construed his heroin use as an attempt to empathize with Kate, though it appeared that he persisted with drug treatment partly because it legitimized his management of her drug use. Joe hoped he would get his ‘life back’ if he could facilitate a reconciliation between Kate and her children. In the interim, Kate suffered grievous violence, while living in Joe’s home: violence that was construed as part of the protection he afforded her against men she had clipped.

For the women in these relationships, criminal justice intervention was often greeted with trepidation, for it rarely provided the protection it promised. Instead, they had often concluded that it was simpler to suffer difficulties within their relationships, attribute violence to drugs use and attribute drug use to earlier traumas, of which there were many in our participants’ lives. For June and Kate, the pains of child abuse, mental health problems and bereavement were partly responsible for the solace they had sought in alcohol and heroin consumption, as well as in their relationships with men. However, as their drug and alcohol usage became complicated by domestic abuse, a range of different strategies were pursued by each couple, typically to avoid attracting the attention of social services or the police. These strategies included taking prescribed medications to minimize their need to commit crime to fund illicit drug use (Joe), moving away while also severing ties with friends and family (Mitchel, June), switching substances (Mitchel, Joe), pursuing relationships with others who use illicit drugs to avoid feeling ‘trapped’ (Mitchel, Kate), consuming drugs or alcohol to cope with the aftermath of conflict (Wayne, Mitchel and June), engaging in crime together (Joe, Kate) and tacitly encouraging partners to participate in drug use (Mitchel, Joe), compounding the risks faced by women who wished to abstain or keep their use moderate. Although drug and alcohol use could increase sociability and enhance feelings of closeness between partners, the fear of dependency also induced feelings of worthlessness—evidenced most vociferously in Wayne’s belief that he could not love anyone and the paranoid accusations this engendered, but also hinted at in Joe’s jealousy and Mitchel’s infidelity.

These cases reveal how the projective dynamics that impart blame, often through men’s claims that their female partners are ‘driving’ them ‘mad’, are easily facilitated by the nuances of sexism and reinforced by the perennial threat of violence. These dynamics were compounded as drinking and drug use generated financial pressures, which intensified conflicts that left the women, as well as some of the men, feeling that their partners regarded sustaining their substance use as more important than their relationship, avoiding criminalization and social services intervention, and the threats posed by those from whom money and drugs had been borrowed or defrauded.

For time-pressured police officers, social workers and magistrates faced with partial evidence and counterclaims, discerning the ‘truth’ of who had done what to whom in which circumstances would have been particularly difficult. Evidently, some abusive men tell highly convoluted stories to exonerate themselves. But some women who are the primary victims in such relationships do not and cannot always tell the whole truth either, not only because they fear further violence and abuse but also because of the stigma of their own drinking and drug use, the fear of child protection proceedings being instigated and the risk of being incriminated by perpetrators they have hit in self-defence or retaliated against ( Wolf et al., 2003 ; Felson and Paul-Phillipe, 2005 ). What is under-acknowledged in many serious cases of domestic abuse is that both perpetrators and victims often share in the shame associated with being abused as adults and children, of failing to protect their own children, anticipate their partner’s needs, having hit back, gotten drunk or engaged in illicit drug use.

Like many of the men in the ADVANCE programme study, the perpetrators we have depicted here dealt with feelings of trauma and grief from their pasts through drug use and by scaring their partners in ways that the women experienced as acutely controlling. While frequently terrifying, such behaviour was not only instrumental and controlling but also expressive of how painful some aspects of their pasts were and how unwilling they were to concede their dependency on both substances and partners who provided care, funds, a place to live and the support needed to maintain precarious relationships with children. Similar experiences of child abuse, mental health problems and drug dependency were sometimes part of the story of intimacy that held these couples together despite grievous domestic abuse. Then, when the risk of criminalization or estrangement presented, men who were coercively controlling sometimes used such prehistories against their partners by threatening to expose them for raising children in contexts that were unsafe. Hence, the ‘madness’ that the women in these relationships often felt was not simply symptomatic of their own mental health problems but projected onto them by men who had become desperate to impose their own versions of reality.

This imposition of the perpetrator’s reality sometimes became more forceful when the criminal justice system intervened. The risk of ‘legal systems abuse’ occurs when perpetrators adept at coercive control harness the powers of the police or the courts to further intimidate their partners ( Douglas, 2018 ). It has, to some extent, been be amplified by the advent of gender-neutral policy, which recognizes that men can be victims too, alongside incident-focussed approaches to policing that direct attention to what has just happened—such as a man being hit—rather than the history of the relationship—such as a woman being terrified or controlled by the same man over a prolonged period ( Walklate et al., 2018 ). The 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill attempts to counter this risk by prohibiting perpetrators from cross-examining victims in the family courts and providing greater recognition of the impact of the ways in which economic abuse makes it harder for many victims to leave. But compelling alcohol and drug-using perpetrators to receive treatment may introduce unforeseen possibilities for coercive use of the law. Some women will consider themselves too culpable to seek support and will ultimately be let down within a criminal justice process calibrated to identify the perpetrator of assaults at the scene and/or whether they were intoxicated, and hence be easily blindsided by the mutualizing discourses some serial offenders offer in their defence ( Tolmie, 2018 ). Others will stay under the misapprehension that the domestic abuse will cease once treatment for substance use begins. This is an unlikely outcome, though intervention is nonetheless worthwhile. There is tentative evidence to suggest that reducing drinking among perpetrators can diminish resort to violence ( Wilson et al., 2014 ) and that opiate substitution treatment can help alleviate dependence on illicitly purchased drugs and acquisitive crime and improve mental, physical and sexual health among heroin-dependent polydrug users ( Gossop et al., 2000 ; Strang et al., 2010 ; MacArthur et al., 2014 ). But, although treatment interventions can reduce the harms of substance use, where drug and alcohol use and domestic abuse co-occur, treatment needs to be part of a range of measures that include support in changes in thinking and modes of relating, securing the housing and economic resources couples need to be able to contemplate living apart, the support and empowerment of survivors, the safeguarding of children and professional help with mental health problems. These skilled forms of intervention are critical to deescalating the dynamics that sustain substance use in the lives of people enduring the worst forms of domestic abuse but are often in short supply.

By contrast, the evidence that domestic abuse perpetrator programmes—as currently commissioned by the UK government—‘work’ remains mixed ( Vigurs et al., 2017 ). Although the best interventions risk encouraging men who have been physically violent to adopt more emotionally abusive tactics ( Kelly and Westmarland, 2016 ), the UK’s Probation Inspectorate is doubtful as to whether the private Community Rehabilitation Companies currently delivering such interventions provide adequate practice in terms of safeguarding victims and their children ( House of Commons, 2018 ). Both the domestic abuse and substance use treatment sectors in the United Kingdom have suffered sustained funding cuts over the last 10 years ( Women’s Aid, 2016 ; ACMD, 2017 ), often secured through the non-renewal of local procurement contracts via competitive tendering processes that favour cheaper and less specialist provision. One danger with compelling drug or alcohol treatment is that it will place clinicians and health practitioners in the ethically compromising position of having to report those who relapse, together with those whose prescriptions have proved insufficient, or who have decided that they would be better trying to reduce their substance use gradually, to the courts where they may face further criminalization ( Seddon, 2007 ; Werb et al., 2016 ).

More generally, models of treatment for alcohol and drug use that acknowledge that ‘relapse’ is common are hard to reconcile with domestic abuse policy founded on compliance with court orders that insist upon ‘zero tolerance’ of reoffending ( Benitez et al., 2010 ). Criminalizing responses are rarely challenged in domestic abuse policy, where academic research has tended to extol the benefits of naming ‘perpetrators’ as such and victims, though sometimes recognized as ‘survivors’, are usually cast as their opposites. Such an approach runs contrary to academic conventions in substance use research where a concerted effort has been used to avoid stigmatizing terminology that reduces individuals’ identities to their drug consumption ( Broyles et al., 2014 ).

Hence, acknowledgement of complexities in the power dynamics of domestic abuse that co-occurs with drug, alcohol and mental health problems raises acute challenges, not only for the delivery of policy that attempts to reconcile safety, justice and rehabilitation but also for academics who have framed the problem of domestic abuse primarily as one of either gender or psychology. Not only do criminologists need to reconceptualize domestic abuse more dynamically but they must also ask why some men choose to secure control in coercive ways when so many other aspects of their lives appear out of control. There is a need to recognize how the interdependencies—including the prospect of economic abuse—involved in intimate relationships are intensified by poverty, stigma, co-dependency, child abuse and neglect, poor mental health and the fear of police and social services intervention. In theory and in practice, we must ensure that shorthand explanations derivative of personality disorders do not obscure what can be learnt from the more complex descriptions both survivors and perpetrators can offer of their relationships. Policymakers need also to ensure that evaluations of treatment options for substance-using perpetrators extend beyond the longstanding fixation with acquisitive crime to include measures that take stock of their impact on children and partners, whether current and former, and to recognize that establishing effective practice will require the reestablishment of expertize and service provision that is increasingly scarce.

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  • About Intimate Partner Violence
  • Risk and Protective Factors
  • Program: DELTA AHEAD
  • Dating Matters
  • Intimate partner violence is a significant public health issue.
  • Intimate partner violence has a profound impact on lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being.

What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is abuse or aggression that occurs in a romantic relationship. Intimate partner refers to both current and former spouses and dating partners.

IPV can vary in how often it happens and how severe it is. It can range from one episode of violence to chronic and severe episodes over multiple years.

IPV can include any of the following types of behavior: 1

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by using physical force.
  • Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  • Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one's own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
  • Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm a partner mentally or emotionally or to exert control over a partner.

For more information about IPV definitions please see Intimate Partner Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0. [3.04 MB, 164 Pages, 508] .

Quick facts and stats

IPV is common. It affects millions of people in the United States each year. Data from CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) indicate: 2

  • About 41% of women and 26% of men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported a related impact. A
  • Over 61 million women and 53 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

IPV starts early and continues throughout people's lives. When IPV occurs in adolescence, it is called teen dating violence . About 16 million women and 11 million men who reported experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime said that they first experienced it before age 18. 2

While violence impacts all people, some individuals and communities experience inequities in risk for violence due to the social and structural conditions in which they live, work, and play. Youth from groups that have been marginalized, such as sexual and gender minority youth, are at greater risk of experiencing sexual and physical dating violence. 3 4

Intimate partner violence can result in injuries and even death. Data from U.S. crime reports suggest that about one in five homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. The reports also found that over half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner. 5

Many other negative health outcomes are associated with intimate partner violence. These include conditions affecting the heart, muscles and bones, and digestive, reproductive, and nervous systems, many of which are chronic. 5

Survivors can experience mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. They are at higher risk for engaging in behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, and risky sexual activity. 6 People from groups that have been marginalized, such as people from racial and ethnic minority groups, are at higher risk for worse consequences. 7

Although the personal consequences of intimate partner violence are devastating, there are also many costs to society. The lifetime economic cost associated with medical services for IPV-related injuries, lost productivity from paid work, criminal justice and other costs, is $3.6 trillion. The cost of IPV over a victim’s lifetime was $103,767 for women and $23,414 for men. 8

Intimate partner violence can be prevented. Certain factors may increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating or experiencing intimate partner violence.

Preventing intimate partner violence requires understanding and addressing the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence. 6

Promoting healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships and communities can help reduce the occurrence of intimate partner violence. It also can prevent the harmful and long-lasting effects of intimate partner violence on individuals, families, and communities. 6

  • Injury, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, concern for safety, fear, needing help from law enforcement, and missing at least one day of work are common impacts reported.
  • Breiding MJ, Basile KC, Smith SG, Black MC, & Mahendra RR. (2015). Intimate partner violence surveillance: uniform definitions and recommended data elements, Version 2.0. Atlanta (GA): National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Leemis RW, Friar N, Khatiwada S, Chen MS, Kresnow M, Smith SG, Caslin S, & Basile KC. (2022). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2016/2017 Report on Intimate Partner Violence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Johns MM, Lowry R, Andrzejewski J, Barrios LC, Demissie Z, McManus T, Rasberry CN, Robin L, Underwood JM. Transgender identity and experiences of violence victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk behaviors among high school students—19 states and large urban school districts, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2019 Jan 25;68(3):67.
  • Johns MM, Lowry R, Haderxhanaj LT, Rasberry CN, Robin L, Scales L, Stone D, Suarez NA. Trends in violence victimization and suicide risk by sexual identity among high school students—Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2015–2019. MMWR supplements. 2020 Aug 21;69(1):19.
  • Jack SP, Petrosky E, Lyons BH, et al. Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 27 States, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2018;67(No. SS-11):1–32. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6711a1external
  • Niolon, P. H., Kearns, M., Dills, J., Rambo, K., Irving, S., Armstead, T., & Gilbert, L. (2017). Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Resource for Action: A Compilation of the Best Available Evidence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: The title of this document was changed in July 2023 to align with other Prevention Resources being developed by CDC's Injury Center. The document was previously cited as "Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices."
  • Stockman JK, Hayashi H, Campbell JC. Intimate Partner Violence and its Health Impact on Ethnic Minority Women [corrected] [published correction appears in J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2015 Mar;24(3):256]. J Womens Health (Larchmt) . 2015;24(1):62-79. doi:10.1089/jwh.2014.4879
  • Peterson C, Kearns MC, McIntosh WL, Estefan LF, Nicolaidis C, McCollister KE, & Florence C. (2018). Lifetime Economic Burden of Intimate Partner Violence Among U.S. Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 55(4), 433–444.

Intimate Partner Violence Prevention

Intimate partner violence can have a profound impact on lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being. CDC works to understand the problem of intimate partner violence and prevent it.

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Senate Passes Legislation to Empower Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Seeking Justice

May 14, 2024

  • Domestic Violence
  • Crime Victims
  • Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Violence
  • Sexual Assault Survivors

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The New York State Senate today passed legislation to strengthen the rights of victims of domestic and sexual violence and expand protections for survivors. The legislative package includes measures to prohibit the defense of voluntary intoxication in sex crimes and would add extreme risk protection orders to the statewide computerized registry of protection orders. It clarifies and expands the definition of "welfare" to increase the amount for awards made to crime victims, and informs crime victims of their rights upon conviction. According to the Senate Democratic Majority, “these changes will make a significant difference in the lives of survivors and help ensure that true justice and accountability are afforded to each affected individual.” The proposed legislation builds on the Senate Majority's  recent work to combat and prosecute domestic violence crimes that include an earmark of $35.7 million in the  2024-25 State Budget , and enactment of the  Rape is Rape Act at the beginning of this year to significantly expand the gamut of assaults that would be legally classified as rape.

Read the Senate Majority Press Release.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Those who have survived domestic and sexual violence should have access to all available resources and protection during their journey toward recovery. Unfortunately, existing regulations and practices often create unnecessary obstacles and bureaucratic processes, and discourage individuals from seeking essential services. Through this legislative package, we aim to clarify procedures and genuinely prioritize the rights of victims. I express my gratitude to the Senators who authored this legislation, as it represents progress for those impacted by these forms of violence and shows that they have truly listened to those who are often never heard.”

Chair of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, Senator Julia Salazar said, “Crime victims deserve compensation for their personal property that has been lost, damaged, or stolen as a result of the crime they have endured, but the parameters for determining what they receive remains too narrow. This bill clarifies and expands those provisions to ensure victims can stabilize their lives and achieve a reasonable standard of living. Passing this legislation is the right thing to do for crime victims, their families, and our communities—and we should do it this year.”

Combatting Coerced Consumer Debt : S2278A, sponsored by Senator Cordell Cleare, would protect survivors of domestic violence and others who have been victims of economic abuse by establishing a right of action for claims arising out of coerced debt.

Removing ‘Voluntary Intoxication’ Exclusion : Sponsored by Senator Nathalia Fernández, S4555B would prohibit the use of the intoxication of victims as a defense in sex crimes, and establish that a person who is voluntarily intoxicated can be incapable of consent.

Removal of Time Period for Persistent Sexual Abuse Definition : S1951, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, removes the ten-year lookback period limit in relation to being defined as a person who has committed persistent sexual abuse.

Requirements for ERPO Reports : Sponsored by Senator Shelley B. Mayer, S3340 requires extreme risk protection orders to be reported to the statewide computerized registry of orders of protection and certain warrants of arrest.

Expands Definition of “Welfare” for Reimbursement of a Victim’s Personal Property : S303, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, would expand the definition of "welfare" to enable victims of crime to receive reimbursement for personal property that has been lost, damaged, or stolen as a result of a crime. The reimbursement or replacement of such property is meant to assist the victim in regaining stability and maintaining a reasonable standard of living.

Victims’ Rights Disclosures : Sponsored by Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, S5502 would provide additional rights to crime victims and require the court or district attorney, either at sentencing or at the earliest time possible, to provide the victims of said crime with an informational sheet explaining their rights.

Notifying Victims about Final Verdict : S1815, sponsored by Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, requires victims to be notified about the final disposition of their case within sixty days following a conviction, and notifies them about their right to make a victim impact statement, which they have the option to read at parole hearings.

Forfeiture of Convicted Beneficiaries Rights : Sponsored by Senator Lea Webb, S5131 would prevent named beneficiaries, who commit an act of domestic violence against a state or city retiree, from receiving any pension benefits.

Lethality Assessment of Domestic Violence : S8977, sponsored by Senator Webb, would require law enforcement officers to conduct a lethality assessment as part of the standardized domestic incident report form when responding to incidents of domestic violence.

Bill Sponsor Senator Cordell Cleare said, “In order to empower survivors, we must ensure that they are able to heal and grow from all harms inflicted upon them, including economic and financial destruction. They deserve our support and our affirmative action to make certain that coerced debts do not follow them for the rest of their life. This bill sets up a rational process for the expungement of coerced debts and provides for a private right of action to enforce the law in cases where an institution does not follow the statutory guidelines and forgive the debt.”    

Bill Sponsor Senator Nathalia Fernández said, “Today is a great step forward in protecting and demanding justice for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I am proud to sponsor legislation to close the gaps in our current law as there should be no grey area when someone is incapable of providing consent. I earnestly hope that the victims whose voices have been silenced for too long will find solace in the new day that this legislation provides to seek justice in the State of New York. I want to thank the Majority Leader for putting this package forward and demonstrating to all New Yorkers that we will always listen to survivors.”

Bill Sponsor Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said, “Today, New York is once again standing up for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and declaring that those who perpetrate such acts will be held accountable for their crimes.  My bill (S.1951) will remove the lookback time period limit that currently limits the legal definition of persistent sexual abuse. As of now, a perpetrator can only be classified as a persistent abuser if their actions of abuse happen within 10 years of each other. This meaningless line in the sand holds some defendants culpable for their crimes while exempting others from accountability for the same actions. Survivors of abuse can tell you that there is no time limit on the pain from abuse. There should be no time limit on how we classify repeat offenders either. I’m grateful to Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and the full Senate Democratic Majority, for listening to survivors and updating our laws to reflect their concerns, not just with the passage of my own bill, but with this full package of bills to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence.”

Bill Sponsor Senator Shelley B. Mayer said, “I am proud my bill S.3340, to modernize the state’s process for filing extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), is part of this important legislative package to strengthen protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence. ERPOs are designed to take guns out of the hands of individuals at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others. By requiring all temporary and final ERPOs to be reported to the statewide computerized registry for orders of protection and arrest warrants, we can improve enforcement by ensuring police know when someone has an outstanding ERPO and better protect victims who face an ongoing risk of violence from someone in their life.  I thank Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and my colleagues for their commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe.”

Bill Sponsor Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton said, “It is crucial that we prioritize and uphold the rights of victims because informing them of their rights isn't just a courtesy—it's a necessity. Reporting a crime is a daunting first step for many, and fear of this process is all too common. This bill will provide more clarity to this process for victims and ensure they are aware of their rights every step of the way in New York.”

Bill Sponsor Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, “Victim impact statements can go a long way in helping survivors of a crime recover mentally and emotionally. However, many are not aware of their right to submit a statement. My legislation will ensure survivors are aware of their rights to speak at parole board hearings, which will help many recover and resume their lives.”

Bill Sponsor Senator Lea Webb said, “As the Chair of Women’s Issues, an advocate for social justice and a public servant, I believe that the voices of victims and survivors of Domestic Violence deserve to be heard and supported. This issue is pervasive throughout our communities and state, our legislative efforts are integral in providing more equitable policies and resources to those impacted and their families. Thank you to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for continuing to prioritize justice with this package of legislation. I am proud to sponsor two bills in this package of legislation to ensure we are protecting victims of crimes in every way we can.”

Connie Neal, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence , said, “On this day, designated by resolution in both chambers as Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Day, we are thrilled the Senate has approved a package of legislation that will support survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and crime. This legislation will provide critical assistance for those experiencing domestic violence, including increasing access to housing and improving their financial security. These are necessary steps for DV survivors to enhance their safety and rebuild their lives. We are particularly grateful to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senator Cordell Cleare for passage of S2278A, a bill prioritized today during NYSCADV’s Legislative Day of Action with nearly 100 DV advocates elevating the needs of DV survivors to the Legislature. Financial abuse occurs in 99% of DV cases and is one of the primary reasons survivors cite for staying in or returning to an abusive partner. Coerced debt, which refers to credit-related transactions entered into without an individual’s consent, is a popular tactic used by abusers to maintain power and control over their victims. This bill creates a process for DV survivors to free themselves of such debt, a key tool that will support their ability to gain financial independence.”

District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York said, “For far too long, the voices and pain of crime victims have been overlooked and overshadowed in our public and legislative discourse. I am heartened to see that the Senate is undertaking this series of legislative reforms to begin to reverse that trend. From increasing survivors’ access to victims’ compensation and housing to enabling prosecutors access to orders of protection issued in domestic violence cases previously sealed and removing constraints associated with holding persistent sexual abusers accountable, this legislative package will bring meaningful change that strengthens the protections provided to victims of crime and in particular to domestic violence survivors. As Staten Island’s chief law enforcement officer and president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, I am committed to ensuring the victims of crime are never forgotten and I commend our state legislators for standing up for survivors and assisting District Attorney’s offices across the state in our efforts to secure justice and keep them safe.”

Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs, Safe Horizon said, “Safe Horizon, the nation's largest nonprofit victim assistance organization, applauds Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her colleagues in the State Senate for passing a package of legislation that will help domestic violence survivors across the state receive critical support and access safety and justice. Through these bills, the State Senate recognizes the full array of services and options that domestic violence survivors need to stay safe. We are grateful to Senators Bailey, Harckham, Cleare, Mayer, Salazar, Webb, Stavisky, Hoylman-Sigal, Fernandez and Scarcella-Spanton for their leadership, and to the entire State Senate for taking such bold action to protect survivors.”

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The San Francisco Couple Whose Lifelong Love Changed America

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A white bespectacled woman wearing a checked dress smiles warmly at another white woman as they sit close together on a couch. A wall lined with books is behind them.

hen Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon co-authored Lesbian/Woman in 1972, the effect was seismic. Dedicated to “daughters throughout the world who are struggling with their identity,” the book began with a clear, unequivocal explanation:

A Lesbian is a woman whose primary erotic, psychological, emotional and social interest is in a member of her own sex.

That a book about lesbian culture would even require such a definition feels bizarre today. But the lifelong work of San Francisco couple Martin and Lyon is one of the reasons that so few people require such annotations now. Lesbian/Woman didn’t just demystify same-sex female relationships — it calmly and clearly sought to normalize them. At the time, few representations of lesbians existed outside of lurid pulp fiction or psychology textbooks. Lesbian/Woman changed the conversation and reassured queer women everywhere that there was nothing wrong with them.

When Martin and Lyon began their relationship in 1952, after two years of friendship, America was a terrifying place to be LGBTQ. Looking back in 1995, the couple wrote an essay recalling the “climate of fear, rejection and oppression” that marked the earliest days of their 56-year romance. “Lesbians and gay men, if found out,” the pair wrote, “were subject to reprisals from all quarters of society: employers, police, military, government, family and friends.”

With that in mind — after moving into a Castro District apartment together on Valentine’s Day in 1953 — Martin and Lyon sought friendships with fellow lesbians outside of the oft-raided gay bars. That led to the establishment in 1955 of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian-rights organization in the U.S.

Originally the idea of Rosalie Bamberger , a local Filipina factory worker,  the nonprofit started with just four couples. Martin was the club’s first president, and by the end of its first year, DOB had 15 official members. From there, the group expanded their ranks via the Daughters of Bilitis newsletter and, starting in October 1956, The Ladder , a groundbreaking lesbian magazine edited by Lyon. She held a degree in journalism from UC Berkeley, and had worked in magazines and newspapers since the ’40s — but here, she published under the pseudonym Ann Ferguson.

Three black and white covers of magazines. The first shows an androgynous person, the second features two cats, and the third is a sketch of a couple, viewed from behind, watching a sunset.

Lyon’s pen name wasn’t the only reflection of the fear-of-being-found-out that marked the era: Daughters of Bilitis’ name came from Songs of Bilitis , a collection of lesbian love poems published in 1894 by Pierre Louÿs, who claimed the text was based on ancient Greek scripts. If anyone asked, the women could say that DOB was merely a club for women who were passionate about Greek poetry.

And in 1960, when the organization’s first conference was held in the penthouse of San Francisco’s Hotel Whitcomb , all attendees were careful to wear skirts and dresses, lest they be accused of cross-dressing. (They were right to do so: SFPD’s “homosexual detail” showed up to see if anything nefarious was going on.) At one point, Martin and Lyon were so concerned about their office being raided and the DOB mailing list being exposed, they hid the document in the back of their station wagon.

Still, DOB persisted, acting as a support and social group, and as a source of information for its members. Even in the organization’s earliest days, Martin carried herself with an unrivaled fortitude. In 1959, she attended a Mattachine Society convention in Denver to voice her dissatisfaction with the gay organization’s attitude towards women. Pointing out that the group was 99% male, Martin announced from the stage: “Lesbians are not satisfied to be auxiliary members or second-class homosexuals. One of Mattachine’s aims is that of sexual equality. May I suggest that you start with the lesbian?”

Martin channeled that energy into her writing as well. Her first solo book, Battered Wives , was published in 1976, becoming the first American book to discuss domestic violence in depth. By then, Martin was also the first out lesbian to have served on the National Organization of Women’s board of directors. Lyon was a fellow NOW member, which made them the first out lesbian couple to join.

he ’70s were a time of great change for Martin and Lyon. Daughters of Bilitis and The Ladder both came to an unceremonious halt in 1970 because of intragroup politics and a couple of bad actors. Without either entity to pour their energy into, Martin and Lyon instead focused on writing Lesbian/Woman — and this time, with incredible bravery, they used their real names. A year later came Lesbian Love and Liberation: The Yes Book of Sex, a sex-positive guide that Martin and Lyon wrote to encourage tolerance, consent and frankness in the bedroom. The very first page came out guns blazing:

Yes, everyone has a right to a good sex life — including persons who have physical disabilities. Yes, sexuality is the most individualistic part of a person’s life. It is up to each individual to determine and then to assume responsibility for her or his own sexuality. Yes, sex is okay in its varying modes of expression — if people know what they are doing, feel good about it and don’t harm others.

Less than two years after Lesbian/Woman’ s release, and just months after Lesbian Love and Liberation came out, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders finally stopped defining homosexuality as a mental illness.

By 1979, the couple had established the Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Center in San Francisco — a safe space for lesbian couples to receive healthcare. “We were trying to help lesbians find themselves,” Lyon said in 1989. “I mean, you can’t have a movement if you don’t have people that see that they’re worthwhile.” (Today, the clinic is also focused on serving trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex people.)

Throughout the ’90s, as LGBTQ people increasingly found acceptance in America, Martin and Lyon celebrated how far they had come in a series of interviews and essays. While the San Francisco Examiner referred to them as “the mothers of lesbian visibility,” the couple remained hilariously open about how long it took them to figure themselves out. In one 1992 interview, Martin joked about Lyon being a “straight lesbian for a while,” even after they were living together as a couple. Lyon laughed at the memory, admitting, “I was a little slow…”

In 2004, Martin and Lyon became the first same-sex couple to marry in San Francisco. At a mass wedding reception for 600 newlyweds on Feb. 23, 2004, Lyon said: “I think it’s important for a lot of the people that got married … but also for our friends who didn’t get married.”

A 2004 San Francisco marriage license.

The unions were frustratingly short-lived — within a month, the California Supreme Court had declared every same-sex marriage that had just taken place in San Francisco invalid.

But four years later, Lyon and Martin proudly returned to City Hall and made things official once more, after the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision on marriage equality. The couple were literally first in line, just as they had been in 2004, and were married by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom — the man who had sanctioned their first wedding. They even wore the same mauve and turquoise suits they had worn for their first ceremony. (Those outfits are now held in San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society’s permanent collection.)

It was an enormously meaningful day for the couple. When Martin died at the age of 87, less than three months after their wedding, Lyon said: “I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed.” Castro’s Pride flag and the flags at City Hall flew at half-mast in Martin’s honor.

Lyon soldiered on without her love for another 12 years. She died in 2020, aged 95, at home in San Francisco. On learning of the news, Gavin Newsom tweeted: “Phyllis — It was the honor of a lifetime to marry you & Del. Your courage changed the course of history.”

It would be a gross understatement to say that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon’s love, and their willingness to speak openly and often about it, impacted America’s view of same-sex unions. The couple spent their whole lives putting themselves in the spotlight — and sometimes grave danger — to raise awareness, and to help women still struggling with their own sexualities.

In 2017, Lyon reminded the world why she and Martin had lived their lives in service. “If you’ve got stuff you want to change, you have to get out and work on it,” she said. “You can’t just sit around and say ‘I wish this or that was different.’ You have to fight for it.”

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The Disastrous Relationship Among Israel, Palestinians and the U.N.

The legal scholar aslı ü. bâli traces the history of international law and its role in the israeli-palestinian conflict..


From New York Times Opinion, this is “The Ezra Klein Show.”

On Friday, May 10, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution saying Palestinians qualify for full member status at the U.N.

In the end, the vote was overwhelming. In favor, 143. Against, 9. Abstentions, 25.


This was new. The General Assembly had never voted for that before, but they did so now in overwhelming numbers. The final vote was 143 to 9. Israel voted against it. So did the United States. Now, to make Palestinians, to make Palestine, a full member of the U.N. would take a Security Council approval. The US would veto that. Our position is that a Palestinian state should only emerge through negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

But the vote itself was a sign of the chasm that is opening between not only Israel and the U.N., but America, too. Israelis have long felt the U.N. is biased against them. In 1975, the U.N. voted to declare Zionism a form of racism, though repealed that in 1991. From 2015 to 2022, the U.N. General Assembly adopted 140 resolutions on Israel. Over that same period, it passed 68 resolutions on all other countries combined.

At the same time, the U.N. was instrumental in the creation of Israel, voting to partition the land of historic Palestine between Jews and Palestinians and giving a majority of it to Jews. Palestinians feel the U.N. in particular, and international law in general, has been a procession of false promises. Where is their state, their self-determination? Where is the right of return for their displaced? What have all these resolutions and condemnations amounted to?

Aslı Bâli is a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in international law. Now, I wanted to have her on to trace a deeper question here, too, one that stretches beyond Israel and Gaza to Russia, Ukraine, and really, the whole world. What is international law actually for? As always, my email, [email protected].

Aslı Bâli, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me.

So I think the way we normally think about laws is that they are rules where if you break them, some kind of external actor comes in to enforce a punishment, right? Maybe a sanction, maybe imprisonment. With that definition, is international law actually made up of laws?

It is made up of laws, and it sort of depends on where you sit. So if we take an average-sized country with an average military capacity and an average economy, it might be very much deterred, just by the presence of the rules themselves, from doing things that it could reasonably anticipate would be subject to punishment under the rules, like sanctions, or punishment, like international adjudication.

And it would depend a little bit what kind of violation it was and whose interests were at stake. But there are many, many contexts in international law where it operates just the same way that you expect it to operate in a domestic legal system.

We are thinking about international law from the perspective of sitting in the United States, a country that is the author of most of the rules, a rulemaker, and not very often a rule taker, in part because it’s by far the most powerful state in the international system. And we tend to project from that experience of understanding international law, in, let’s say, an a la carte manner, to how all states in the international system might regard international law. But that’s wrong.

I think that makes sense to me. But one of the things I was looking at before we talked was, what, since roughly 2000, have been the conflicts with the most terrible casualty counts? And when you look at that, you actually do see a lot of countries that are not hugely powerful international actors.

I mean, you see Syria on there. You see Yemen, you know, and the Yemen Civil War. You see Ethiopia and Eritrea. And all of these — and some of them in particular — have had terrible atrocities associated with them. But the fact that the perpetrators weren’t particularly powerful did not seem to create some opening by which the international community could stop the bloodletting.

Yeah, in the two specific examples you just gave that you began with in Syria and Yemen, the reason for this is because smaller or less powerful actors can seek great power patrons in the international system, and those very powerful states can disable mechanisms of enforcement and accountability. So in the case of Syria, it has cultivated a relationship with Russia, and Russia has effectively used its veto power at the Security Council to shield Syria from various forms of accountability that were very much on the table.

With respect to Yemen, the source of impunity has been the United States, and Saudi Arabia has been able to wield its own influence, backed by the United States at the U.N. through a variety of backroom negotiations and open threats. So the cases you began with are cases where great powers stopped accountability from occurring through their veto and the Security Council and other means.

That still leaves the other example you gave, which is Eritrea and Ethiopia. And I would add to that one more, which is the conflict that has consumed the Great Lakes region in Africa since the late 1990s, where you have had millions of people displaced, millions of people killed and injured, and essentially very little by way of international intervention.

These are cases where no great power is interested and is willing to generate the political will to engage the institutional accountability mechanisms that exist because there isn’t, for example, a domestic audience cost. There isn’t an outcry domestically over that particular conflict in the Great Lakes region, D.R.C. example that I gave you. There’s no comparison between the level of attention and scrutiny given by the American public to conflicts that are occurring in Europe or in the Middle East and those that are occurring in parts of Africa where the United States is not historically deeply implicated or engaged.

So what I hear you saying here in different directions is that for international law, like for other kinds of law, power really matters.

Yeah, and if you would, let me indulge in just one more example, in the context of the 1990s, when the United States was by far the most powerful state in the international system, an uncontested sort of unipolar moment, there were two major crises that involved clear evidence of crimes against humanity, possibly genocidal crimes and violence. One was in Yugoslavia, and the other one was in Rwanda. And there was enormous international attention to these contexts.

And yet there was still a reluctance to do the first thing that international law might have required, which is to trigger measures through the U.N. Security Council that would wield international power to get the violence to stop. And there were constant calls for this.

But from the United States’ perspective, a painful, punishing experience in Somalia earlier in the 1990s had yielded the lesson that we will not be implicated in judgments by the Security Council, suggesting that such an obligation might exist, for example, by characterizing the conflict in Rwanda as a genocide. We will not allow this because this will drag us into engagements that we do not wish to be part of.

Eventually, of course, because the Yugoslav conflict was unfolding on European soil, eventually, you did have a direct intervention, but it took a very long time. And so that’s another example of a place — it’s sort of in between — where international law is definitely being used. It’s shaping the responses of actors, but it’s being deployed in a way that defers the urgency of the moment and allows bloodletting to continue.

Before we get into the conflict where we’re actually really here to talk about, I guess I want to ask a more personal question of you, which is, this seems, from everything you are describing here, to be an incredibly frustrating world to work in. I know a number of international lawyers. I know people who care deeply about international law, and they are unerringly some of the most idealistic, most justice oriented people I have ever met.

And yet what we’re describing here, what you’re describing here, is a world where powerful states decide whether enforcement actions will be taken, where power decides whether the law will apply at all, where the relevant body of the U.N. that decides on security actions is dominated by a small number of very powerful players wielding vetoes. How do you balance the sort of belief in the laws as written and your recognition of the way that practical politics and power end up shaping and warping their application?

So the international peace and security order that we have emerged out of the Second World War, which resulted in the deaths of at least 30 million civilians, which caused untold damage to the world over, although we tend, in the United States, to focus exclusively on the European theater. So the architecture that was established for the international legal order in the aftermath of the second World War prioritized peace over justice without any doubt, in my view.

The nations were united. The big five, China, Russia, Britain, France, and the United States, led the peoples of the world as they launched a rule of international law and a bill of human rights, a rule of law they believed no nation, large or small, would dare defy.

The architecture of the United Nations security order gives asymmetric power to the victors of the Second World War that were also assessed at that time to be the most powerful states in the international system, states that now have nuclear weapons. Any war between those five states threatens planetary extinction, and as a result, must at all costs be avoided.

The architecture of the U.N. endows them with this asymmetric power as a mechanism to keep them inside of the institution, negotiating the differences amongst them, rather than resorting to extra diplomatic, extra political means to resolve their conflicts.

Now, imagine a universe in which the great majority of countries agree that the circumstances in Israel-Palestine represent a threat to international peace and security and require imperatively international intervention. The United States would interpret such an intervention as a direct threat to one of its most core interests of enormous consequence. And so immediately, you would be in a situation in which one nuclear power would be on one side of the equation, and arguably, one or more nuclear powers would be on the other side of a conflict.

There is a real risk that any number of geopolitical zones of conflict, including Israel-Palestine, including the Middle East, could become the site of a metastasizing globalizing conflict in which one or more of these nuclear states has ranged against the other.

But the institutional design of the United Nations system is intended to prevent that by enabling each of these powers to paralyze any action when one of these great powers understands its interests to be threatened. That’s the design of the system.

International law, though, has other characteristics, too. For one thing, it is a recognition of the sovereign equality of all states, regardless of their ability to defend their borders militarily. So it’s a system that is a de jure matter, recognizes equality amongst fundamentally unequal units in the international system, and affords some possibility for smaller states to protect their own independence using a normative language in which all actors recognize the states in the international system have a shared vocabulary.

That’s an incredibly valuable possibility. It’s a language that makes it possible to make normative claims on the powerful and to limit the degree to which they exercise their power in ways that are deeply compromising of the interests of states that are far weaker.

So the basic decision made to build an international institutional architecture that recognizes those asymmetries of power and keeps those countries in, even at the price of paralyzing the security order in circumstances where they believe their interests are at stake, is a decision to prioritize the avoidance of a third World War over justice as part of the actual internal institutional structure of international law itself.

You’ve said that the creation of the state of Israel and the creation of international law as we know it today are interwoven. How so?

So one of the things that the League of Nations did after World War I was oversee the territories of collapsed empires that were defeated in the course of the first World War and whose territories were now no longer under imperial dominion. On the land empire of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the territories were not deemed capable of self-government and were placed instead under mandates, a kind of trusteeship, in the hands of colonial powers.

One of those was the Palestine mandate. And it was bequeathed to Britain to oversee as a mandate that was supposed to enable the self-determination of the people on that territory. There were a range of events for two decades, as the British maintained this mandate authority, in which you had increasing emigration of Jews from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine as part of their goal to establish a state on the Palestinian territory that would realize the ambitions of the Zionist movement, which was born in Europe in the 19th century.

And the British authorities were extremely supportive of the goal of Jewish communities to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was something that was conceived of as a solution to an ongoing problem of Europe, which was the kind of raging anti-Semitism and the violence that came with it that culminated horrifically in the shoah in the Second World War. But of course, it punctuated European history for centuries before that with pogroms and persecution across the continent.

And then, of course, you had the indigenous Arab population of Palestine that were seeking self-determination and independence, as were the Arab populations of the other mandates, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, et cetera. And so, of course, this was producing inter-communal clashes because you now had two communities that were seeking to engage in self-determination on one land. And so this conflict raged for two decades.

And at the end of the Second World War, the British, basically having difficulty maintaining imperial control as a general matter, turned its mandate in Palestine over to the newly formed United Nations and was asked to make a judgment about what should be done about these competing ambitions for a homeland.

At a special session, the General Assembly of the United Nations established a special committee on Palestine and sent it to this troubled area to study the problems and make recommendations.

The judgment that the United Nations made was that the land would be partitioned between the Jewish community, which would get roughly 55 percent of the land, and the Arab community, which would get roughly 45 percent of the land. The Palestinians of the territory were accorded less than half of the territory that had been part of the mandate.

They objected to this. They also constituted a very, very large majority on that territory at the time. But the Arab rejection led to a war. And in that war, the Jewish forces gained a larger proportion of the territory even than had been assigned to them in the partition, leaving 22 percent of the territory under Arab control and the remainder under Jewish control.

Israel was admitted to membership in the United Nations, and her flag was raised at Lake Success. Again, the United Nations had, through peaceful mediation, resolved an international dispute, which had been a threat to world peace.

So that’s as of 1949. But in the following two decades, the U.N. presided over a much, much wider scale decolonization of territories that had been colonial possessions of Britain and France and other European powers across the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.

And this enormous wave of decolonization brought dozens of new countries into the United Nations, newly independent countries, all of whom were highly committed to a model of decolonization that enabled populations under colonial rule to achieve self-determination.

So one thing I think this gets at is the way in which there are these two narratives that sit alongside each other about the foundation of the state of Israel and the world we now inhabit around that, which is, one, is that it was an act of the United Nations, right? There was a piece of paper. There was a partition plan.

And another is that the U.N. was a bit of a sideshow, and there was a war, and that sort of understanding Israel, and, for that matter, Palestine and Palestinians, as constructs of international law, has both always been tempting, because international has always been right there, but has actually been wrong, because in the end, the U.N. did not send in peacekeepers or soldiers to enforce its own partition. It did not send in people to create its own preferred outcome.

And so there’s been this tendency to look outside of the conflict for this arbitrating authority of the U.N. that has always been right there alongside the conflict and still is, but has never actually been able to manage or effectively structure it. How do you think about the way these sort of two tracks of interpretation have evolved alongside each other?

So I think that the second track that you describe, which just views the creation of the state of Israel as a fact of war, is problematic for a couple of reasons. The first is that it doesn’t ask a set of questions that are the predicate to that war being possible. How was it that there was an idea that an Israeli state would emerge on a mandate from the Ottoman Empire that was called the Palestine mandate for the population that was on that territory at the time of the end of the first World War?

That, too, was an instrument of international law. The mandates were created as a consequence of the Versailles Peace Treaty, and the British exercised its power as a matter of international law over Palestine, and, of course, many would argue, violated the terms of a mandate by enabling a kind of pattern of immigration and demographic change, along with commitments, political and legal, to another community to achieve self-determination on that same territory.

And this connects to the ways in which international law itself has long been, prior to World War II and since, a system of rules that essentially have facilitated European, let’s say, now Western or global North control over swaths of territory that were defined lawfully as colonies.

So the thing you’ll hear from Israelis on this is, they feel the U.N. is biased against them. You’ll hear that from 2015 to 2022, the U.N. General Assembly adopted 140 resolutions on Israel. It adopted 68 resolutions on all other countries combined, even though this is a period when there was a lot of war, a lot of atrocity, a lot of human rights abuses in places like Syria and Yemen. So there is a specific level of interest in Israel and the Palestinians that I think if you’re just looking at, say, casualty counts of different wars and conflicts, you wouldn’t be able to predict.

So it’s the only territory that had been slated to be decolonized at the creation of the United Nations that it inherited from that previous system that has not been decolonized. It is not disproportionate to the attention that was paid to apartheid South Africa, where the territory continued to be under white minority rule. For decades in the United Nations, these two challenges were understood as ongoing examples of incomplete decolonization that continued long after the rest of the world had been fully decolonized.

At the beginning of the 1990s, there was an expectation globally that both of these remaining dossiers of incomplete decolonization were on the cusp of being resolved, one of them because of the transition within South Africa to a post-apartheid constitutional regime, and the other because of the Oslo peace process and the imminent possibility of the emergence of a Palestinian state.

In the context of Israel-Palestine, the two-state solution did not come to fruition. And as a consequence now, Palestine remains the one instance that goes right back to the founding of the United Nations of an example that a majority of states at the U.N. continue to interpret through the lens of incomplete decolonization.

So from the US perspective, decolonization is over. It was a good thing, and now we’re in this post-Cold War order. But from the perspective of the world that was subject to colonial dominion, the question of decolonization remains very live, and the continuities between the experience quite recent, I would add, historical experience, of their nations and the current scenes that are emanating out of Israel-Palestine, makes this an ongoing issue of concern for them, if only for symbolic reasons and if only to a limited extent.

So voting on U.N. General Assembly resolutions is not exactly the same as having serious skin in the game. But those 143 states in the international system understand the Palestinians as entitled to self-determination and a state. 50 countries in the world don’t recognize Palestinian statehood. And there’s an enormous overlap between those 50 countries and the former colonial powers in the international system.

And so in that circumstance, I think you can see why it is that what you’re describing as disproportionate attention is actually attention to the one case that continues to reflect this longstanding grievance of the global South over the role that international law has played in enabling subordination.

The view I often hear from Israelis about this is that they feel there is something unusual about the belief that Israel itself is unusual. And it’s an attack they often lob specifically at the United States, which is itself a nation that was settled, settled with enormous violence to it. There is a lot of blood in the founding and blood in the early years of the country, and that at some point, that is no longer a question, right? There isn’t an effort anywhere to sort of say, should the US continue to exist?

And to israelis, there are many countries that look like that, that their foundations have a war in them, the foundations have an expulsion in them, but that country is now kind of accepted as just a country, not sort of an open case file, whereas Israel, they feel like there is somehow softer clay around them than other countries that don’t look all that different in their origins. Do you think there’s validity to that feeling? And if so, does it reflect that Israel emerges after the formation of the U.N. and this world of international law, or is it something else?

I do think it has to do with the fact that Israel emerges after the rules have changed. So it’s quite true that the United States was founded in a very similar fashion with European settlement, and in fact, much more violent — the genocide of the indigenous population, expropriation of its lands, enslavement of peoples, trans-Atlantic slave trade, et cetera.

There’s nothing to celebrate about the origin story of the United States from that perspective as a matter of international law, except that at the time that all of that happened, there weren’t clear laws that excluded that. In fact, quite the opposite. As I mentioned, international law facilitated colonial conquest of non-European lands and territories and offered a set of justificatory frameworks for enabling that.

So, first of all, there was already international law applicable that treated Palestinians differently than indigenous populations of earlier centuries. As a consequence of the end of the first World War and the creation of the League of Nations, Palestinians had already been recognized as a people with a legitimate right of self-determination, subject to a mandate that was understood as a trust in order for them to have their welfare preserved, I mean, however cynically, by a colonial power until such time as they could exercise their right of self-government.

And secondly, following the end of the Second World War, there were new rules about the conduct of war and the protection of refugees. So it was against that backdrop that Israel came into existence. And it’s less that it’s considered a state unlike all other states, and it’s not an incomplete file as such just on the Israeli side. It’s rather the idea that, today, you have 14 million people on this territory. Half of them were recognized as having their own right of self-determination, and that has been frustrated. The other half has achieved its right of self-determination.

So Israel has created a state that is an expression of the recognized right of self-determination of the Jewish people, but is continually behaving in ways that essentially deny Palestinians the ability to achieve the same. All of those efforts that you described of external actors to impose solutions of one kind or another, whether they be unilaterally the British or the Americans or the United Nations as an international organization, one thing they run up against is that there are actually two communities on the ground whose preferences need to be taken into account.

One of them is asymmetrically more powerful than the other. Each of the rounds that you described or that we’ve discussed so far have greatly favored the Israeli side in one way or another. The least example of that is the U.N. partition plan. All subsequent plans have enabled Israel to retain far larger swaths of territory, territory acquired by use of force in a time when international law prohibits the acquisition of territory through the use of force.

So these agreements, these externally backed agreements, have systematically favored the more powerful side. And the inconvenient reality on the ground is that there are two populations of equal size on the territories, 7 million Palestinians, 7 million Jewish citizens of Israel. And it has proven impossible to force, through external pressure or by dint of arms, Palestinians to simply accept their subordination as a legal matter. And so you have an ongoing conflict.

Let me pull us into the present here and look at another body of international law, which is the international laws around war and conflict. And let me begin on the part that I think people are talking less about right now, which is that on 10/7, you have Hamas fighters cross into Israel. They kill around 1,200 people, most of them civilians. They take hundreds of hostages, many of them civilians. What does international law have to say about that?

So they clearly violated the laws of war by first deliberately targeting civilians; secondly, taking civilians hostage, which is also impermissible. And then ongoing indiscriminate rocket fire is another source of violation. So there’s undoubtedly war crimes committed by armed Palestinian factions, including Hamas, on Oct. 7.

If Israel wanted to rely on U.N. international law here as both a matter of defense and a matter of justice, what would it have said or done?

So it had a number of potential options. It could have engaged in a police action in Gaza seeking to apprehend individuals that they held responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks. It would probably have begun with investigation on Israeli territory of who actually was responsible for taking the individuals that had been captured alive on Israeli territory, interrogating them, and then seeking to gain access to or jurisdiction over those that were held responsible.

It could have engaged in a much narrower set of engagements, attempting to target facilities that made it possible for armed actors to cross the border in the way it had. And primarily, it could have shored up its own defenses because the conditions that enabled the Oct. 7 attack to occur was not some new, unexpected capacity on the part of armed actors that represent an ongoing existential threat to Israel, but rather a failure to maintain basic defenses at the border with Gaza.

Israel has responded with the view that Hamas is a kind of organized fighting force that cannot be allowed to continue to exist as any kind of fighting force. That as long as Hamas exists as a structure, it will continue planning and using creative means to try to figure out how to strike at Israel’s weaknesses, and so that they need to destroy Hamas. They can’t just treat it as something where a couple people committed a crime. The thing that was Hamas cannot be allowed to exist. How does that fall within the way international law understands the kinds of responses that are reasonable here?

I think the view that the absolute destruction and extermination of your adversary is the war objective is simply grossly disproportionate and impermissible as a matter of use ad bellum, which is to say the law governing resort to the use of force. Hamas does not represent an existential threat to Israel. Israel is saying that our objective in this war is to destroy all Hamas military presence, period. So then it’s basically a no holds barred situation because the argument is there are tunnels underneath everywhere.

So the way that Israel is interpreting international humanitarian law here, its deliberate choice to prioritize military necessity over the principles of proportionality and distinction, and also to describe military necessity with respect to its overall strategic objectives, rather than answering the question whether this object in this concrete and direct way is contributing to a specific military advantage in that moment, is reinterpreting the rules in a way that undermine both the spirit and the law of international humanitarian law, because it eviscerates the law’s ability to protect civilians.

What’s made much more complicated is that Israel is not always clear in claiming that it’s Hamas as an armed actor that must be destroyed. Oftentimes, it seems as if it’s just Hamas as a whole, and Hamas has many different characteristics. It is an armed faction in Gaza, but it is also the governing authority that represents all of the civil service, all of the bureaucracy, all of the municipal services, everything that enables any territory to run from crossing guards to sanitation workers to people who are operating the hospital systems.

And so the idea of destroying the governing authority is totally impermissible and would be actually targeting of the civilian infrastructure, which is, indeed, something I think we’re seeing. And so there’s a troubling question of, how does Israel define the object that it’s seeking to eliminate or exterminate? And in the context of Gaza, which is a very, very small territory with a very dense civilian population, is going to have the kinds of consequences we’ve seen of just grotesque, disproportionate harm to civilians.

Is this a place where international law and what you might call international practice diverge? Because it is difficult for me to imagine all that many countries suffering the kind of attack from a neighboring territory that Israel suffered, and not believing their objective is to wipe out the governing authority that planned, financed and launched that attack.

I mean, the obvious, I think, analogy for Americans is Al Qaeda after 9/11 was certainly the way the American political establishment initially absorbed this moment, right? Joe Biden kind of making the point of how many 9/11’s this would feel like to Israel, even as many of us kind of really pushed the idea that our response to 9/11 was misguided.

But it wasn’t an effort to invoke that same sense of how a country might reasonably be expected to respond to this kind of security risk. So there’s a question of international law here, but there’s also the question of, what do countries typically do under this kind of pressure? And I wonder if those two diverge for you.

So it’s an interesting question. To begin with, the idea of a country facing an armed attack from another country and what does it do is, of course, the premise of all of the laws of war.

And let’s think of the context of Ukraine and Russia, for example. We don’t imagine a scenario in which it’s permissible for either of those actors to have as its war objective the complete elimination and extermination of all fighting forces and the governing structure of the other. We would understand that to be a kind of total war that’s ruled out. And if either party seemed as if it was pursuing that kind of a maximalist goal, that would be rejected out of hand.

So it really depends on where you sit. If you’re the United States and you choose to see Hamas as the equivalent of Al Qaeda on 9/11, you might choose one set of repertoires. And as you say, international law required constraints that the United States did not observe post-9/11 and came to regret it for the reasons you were suggesting.

Many of us believe that the US response post-9/11 was disastrous, not only for those that were the targets of US force, but also for the United States itself, which, in fact, suggests that there is a purpose to the rules, and that enabling their constraining function may actually be in the interest of all parties. But if you’re sitting elsewhere in the world, for example, in the Global South, then you might not think of Hamas as similar to Al Qaeda, but rather to the national liberation movement that achieved independence in your own country.

And the rest of the world, the Global South, at least, fought very hard for a law that entrenched that right of armed resistance in the international legal order through the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions and through a range of subsequent customary international law that has grown up around the Geneva Conventions and the additional protocols that recognize national liberation movements as a very different kind of actor, a sort of proto-state military, rather than an actor that can be compared to Al Qaeda or a terrorist group that isn’t connected to a claim of national self-determination.

I want to go back to something you said a minute ago about Russia in Ukraine. Because I actually did understand something like the governing authority of this country is illegitimate and a danger to us and needs to be wiped out completely, as Russia’s, at least, stated objective of what they were trying to do in Ukraine. And I think this gets to this question somewhat of enforcement, where I think Russia’s general invasion was rejected within international law.

And yet there is this kind of shimmering, crazy making sense around it, where Russia did the thing that is most abhorred under international law — just launched an invasion of a neighboring country for functionally no reason whatsoever. And yet Russia maintains its standing in the international system as it has always been. It’s sitting there on the U.N. Security Council. The fact that its efforts have been rejected has not mattered all that much.

If we are looking at the Russia-Ukraine analogy alongside this, I do think that is one where people look at the system, and they say this is no system at all. This is just power dressed up as laws, not laws that actually act to constrain power.

In Russia and Ukraine, it’s one thing to say that the goals of Russia are to defeat the Ukrainian government and to perhaps remove the leadership of the Ukrainian government. And it’s another thing to say that the goal of Russia is to wipe them out and exterminate them.

So I don’t think we have any evidence to suggest at this point that they have articulated an expectation, for example, of taking every person who has served in the Ukrainian government, from trash collectors to sanitation workers to civilian crossing guards to policemen to K through 12 teachers, et cetera, and just kill them all.

Is that Israel’s goal, though? Because that’s also to mine — I mean, I have a deep critique of the way Israel has conducted this war, but I don’t hear them saying that every doctor who works for the Hamas government should be killed here. I mean, that also sounds like beyond what Israel has described as their goal.

I was just pointing out that the goal of wiping out Hamas has the potential to be read in three different ways. There’s the armed actor, there’s the governing infrastructure, and there’s the social movement. And there’s ambiguity in the way that Israel describes it. More generally, Israel has targeted, for example, the police force. It has targeted civilian infrastructure of a variety of kinds.

So it’s hard to say exactly what their goals are, but I didn’t mean to assert that they had the goal of killing those people. I’m just saying if that were a goal, it would be impermissible. That kind of total war would be impermissible under any circumstances, in any context, whether between states or with respect to a nonstate actor, et cetera. And that was the sense in which I was invoking Russia and Ukraine earlier in our conversation, that we don’t understand that to be the Russian war goal.

And the challenge that we have in saying that Israelis have established the complete destruction and elimination of Hamas as the objective of the war raises troubling implications of total war that I think we wouldn’t permit in any context, even the suggestion of destroying the entire military.

I mean, for example, the United States clearly had in mind, in its invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of Iraq, destroying Saddam Hussein’s capacity to wield his military. It didn’t entail destroying every last fighting man or fighting age man in Iraq. And indeed, it didn’t involve even disarming all Iraqis. These are not the kinds of objectives that we have.

Typically, it’s a decapitation of the leadership, and then a preservation to the extent possible of infrastructure that will make governing the day after possible. It’s not always clear in the case of the war against Hamas that Israel is making any of these distinctions.

What are, in your view, the clearest violations of the laws of war that have happened during Israel’s invasion of Gaza?

I think the one that is probably the easiest to document and substantiate is the blocking of access to humanitarian aid and what is now amounting to the crime of starvation. Because Israeli officials declared in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7 that they were going to cut off all food, all fuel, all water, and have proceeded to oversee a scheme in which they control today all points of entry and egress from Gaza and have precluded humanitarian aid necessary for subsistence of the Gazan population to enter the territory, and have also denied humanitarian actors the ability to supply that aid.

So blocking humanitarian assistance, including food, medicine, fuel, water treatment, hospitals. That, I think, is the clearest and most easily established war crime. I think the deliberate targeting, in some instances, or at least indiscriminate, bombardment of areas that have dense concentrations of civilians. It’s difficult in the context of war crimes, as you know, and the violations of international humanitarian law to establish the requisite intent.

But examples of indiscriminate killing that are well known include the killing of Israeli hostages when they had escaped and were walking clearly unarmed with their hands up, carrying white flags and were nonetheless executed. And then the strike on the World Central Kitchen four-car convoy. These are cases where, because of the identity of those that were struck, Israel has felt the need to explain its conduct and others have scrutinized the conduct. But I think these are very small examples of a much, much wider pattern.

Unfortunately, the deaths of 34,000-plus Gazans has simply not attracted the same level of international focus. But there are statements that have been made on the record by Israeli military authorities and IDF spokespeople, together with the empirical record of enormous destruction of all civilian infrastructure in Gaza, that make it relatively more straightforward than in other contexts to establish that the war crime of indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas has occurred.

There are, I think, two major categories here that I want to think about not separately, but for different reasons. So one is the actions that I think it is fair to say are targeted at civilians, or at least indiscriminately, truly indiscriminately, targeted at civilians, like the siege. And, I mean, that has always seemed to me to be a war crime. And the sort of American defense of it has, I think, been disappointing.

The other piece of it, which you brought up around these tunnels, what Israel says is that Hamas is using international law against it, that Hamas uses civilian shields. And I cannot judge whether this is true, but take it as plausible for the moment that Hamas works out of schools and hospitals. And the Israelis have said, well, because of that, it means that, unfortunately, we have had to destroy. I mean, there was just a Times report on the huge proportion of Gazan schools that have just been wrecked.

And so Israel’s argument is that this is not Israel’s fault. It is Hamas’s fault, that it is Hamas that has decided to hide among civilians and to use both civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields, as disguises, as operating bases. And so the consequence of this falls on them. How does international law treat a question like that when you do have a force that, at least, to some degree, is using civilians and civilian infrastructure as kind of shields, collateral damage, and operating bases?

Obviously, in places and in territories where you have a dense civilian population, there is infrastructure that is helping an adversary’s armed forces sustain itself on which the civilian population is also deeply dependent. Targeting that on the grounds that it’s dual use is not only in violation of the spirit of international humanitarian law and the goal of protecting civilians and minimizing harm to civilians in conflict, but in many cases, it’s also a violation of the rules, which brings us to human shields and that argument.

So the definition of using human shields for a matter of international law is the deliberate placement of civilians in proximity to military objectives during a conflict. It’s not the presence of civilians in densely populated areas from which armed groups also operate. Gaza is a tiny territory. And inevitably, on a territory that small, that has 2.3 million people residing, you’re going to have civilians close to places where Hamas operates, no matter what.

Under those circumstances, the rules require that Israel take precautions that are available to take. So let’s take an example of the hospitals. Let’s say, arguendo, that Hamas was using a hospital or was present underneath a hospital. Then what would be the measures that Israel is permitted to take in order to address the tactical military advantage of an actual Hamas presence, an armed presence in that moment, near or under that hospital?

First of all, Israel would have to evacuate the civilians or create an opportunity for the civilians that are in the hospital to be evacuated. It would have to facilitate access to medical supplies and necessary humanitarian assistance for patients to be transferred, for patients in need of care. It would also have to ascertain where it believes Hamas is present and narrowly target whatever strike or attack to that particular location.

And it’s not simply that you warn a population of an attack, it’s that you provide them a meaningful opportunity to be evacuated from an area. You offer them safe passage, and you enable them to travel to somewhere where they will be safe. Instead, we’ve seen warnings without opportunities to evacuate, or where evacuation passageways have themselves been the subject of targeting for attack, and where people have been directed to places that themselves have continued to be bombarded. Let’s just look at the laws of war for a moment and see what they’re designed to do. They’re not designed primarily for ex-post accountability and to be used in an international criminal setting. They’re designed for ex-ante incorporation in the military manuals and books and rules that govern armed forces, how they’re trained and what they’re told they can or can’t do.

Now, I think there’s good reason to think that there has been a dramatic shift in Israel in the internal rules of engagement. We’re probably not going to be able to establish whether that’s true or not in the immediate period because Israel will remain the most powerful actor on the ground and will not subject itself to that kind of third party inquiry. But the rules are failing to constrain Israel first and foremost, because Israel has ceased to internalize those rules.

The use of such heavy weaponry as 2,000 pound bombs or the shelling with very heavy artillery of civilian areas where civilian populations remain present, is quite distinctive in this context because it’s happened so frequently and with such a high level of ordinance that sets it apart from essentially any other conflict to date, at least that the United States has been involved with or implicated in.

One thing that has been interesting to me is the Biden administration has been shifting its position somewhat over the past, I would call it, two or three months, is that as much as international law has not been able to constrain Israel on its own, it is the tool the Biden administration increasingly seems to be using as it looks for a way to reconcile its own positions.

It wasn’t there when they didn’t want it to be there, but when they don’t seem to want their position to simply be Joe Biden has had enough, he thinks they’ve gone too far, it does sort of operate as this other language, this sort of agreed upon language. I’m curious how you think about that sort of role of this. Even where international law cannot work as an in-the-moment enforcement mechanism, it is something that can be used, at times, to create sort of mounting moral pressure or justify decisions that would not otherwise work politically.

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s clear. And again, I just want to go back to where we started at the very beginning of our conversation in thinking about how does law work as a general matter. We don’t say in a domestic system that has periodic surges in murder rates that the law of homicide doesn’t exist or doesn’t work or is unenforceable.

Even if it’s the case that there are people that escape the capacity of the law to actually hold them individually accountable for one reason or another, the fact that people break the law and sometimes get away with it doesn’t mean the law doesn’t exist and doesn’t have force. The Biden administration came into office, in part, signaling at home and abroad that it was breaking from the Trump administration, breaking from a period of what it viewed as lawless rule and returning to a rule-based order, rehabilitating the US reputation.

What we have now entered into is a period of a return of serious multipolarity. That is to say, the United States faces a range of actors, some larger, some smaller, that for a variety of reasons, either in their particular spheres of influence or globally, have emerged as either adversaries or challengers.

And in this context, of course, each of them is able to make recourse to the precedents set by the United States of failing to constrain when they want to act. And so they’ll point to Kosovo. They’ll point to Iraq. They’ll point to Libya. And we’re seeing the consequences of those precedents now, when they’re wielded to legitimate uses of force we disagree with.

So there is that phenomenon, for starters, and that indicates a universe in which all actors, not just the United states, have to either be far more careful about the ways in which they continue to erode the existing international legal infrastructure, or in which we are moving in the direction of regional, fragmented interpretations of what the international rules are, powerful actors commanding authority within their own near abroad becoming stronger, and over time, the production of precisely the kinds of dynamics that resulted in the world wars of the 20th century.

So for much of the war, the US has used its veto at the Security Council to stop any resolutions calling for a cease-fire. Then in March, when another one came along, this one written somewhat differently, the US abstained and allowed it to pass. The Israelis ignored it, and then the US called it nonbinding. And there was a State Department briefing where a reporter asked about this.

So you don’t believe anything is going to happen as a result of the passage of this resolution?

So I think that separate and apart from this resolution, we have active ongoing negotiations to try to achieve what this resolution calls for, which is an immediate cease-fire and the release of hostages. I can’t say that this resolution is going to have any impact on those negotiations —

So I don’t expect you to answer this now, but to maybe just stick this in your pocket. If that’s the case, what the hell is the point of the U.N. or the U.N. Security Council?

That was really a moment, I think, that made the contradictions in our relationship to international law pretty stark.

There’s actually a precedent for the United States treating a U.N. Security Council resolution and turning around and presenting it as nonbinding. And strikingly, it was in the South African context. You had a very similar situation during apartheid that we find ourselves in now, in which the U.N. General Assembly, the overwhelming majority of states in the international system, passed resolution after resolution after resolution, with enormous majorities in support of denunciations of the South African regime of apartheid, calls for sanctions, arms embargoes, all kinds of things.

In the General Assembly, while it doesn’t have the power to issue resolutions that have binding law that are the force of binding law, it has enormous power to shape agendas. And it did do that, even as the US and the UK, and to some extent, France continued to use their role in the Security Council to shield the South African government. The General Assembly ended up setting the global agenda for how one should understand South Africa.

And over time, the Security Council had no choice, under enormous pressure, to finally agree to some very, very mild measures against South Africa. But the very first such resolution passed by the Security Council involved exactly the same pattern, and then the US delegate turning around and saying, well, this is nonbinding, and having an enormous debate about how to interpret Security Council resolutions, et cetera.

In the end, in the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t matter because the overall momentum in the system was against the South African government. And in the coming years after that, South Africa had come to become such an illegitimate actor globally that the Security Council finally did pass binding resolutions involving arms embargoes. And as we know, there was an eventual transition in South Africa to a post-apartheid system.

So this nonbinding resolution around the cease-fire could also be seen as the first in a series of steps that might occur in this relationship between international public opinion, international law, the general assembly, international courts, the U.N. Security Council, that shift our attention away from the longstanding international humanitarian law framework that has dominated and that has forced us to look specifically at the rules for belligerent occupation and the rules of the conduct of hostilities when Israel engages in a variety of kinds of operations against Gaza or against the West Bank.

To shift our gaze from all of that and instead return our attention to the question of the entirety of the mandate and ask a question about what the future would look like politically and legally under international law for an authority that governs 14 million people, where 7 million people, Jewish citizens, are fully enfranchised citizens of a democracy, and the other population of the territory, the other 7 million people, still have unresolved rights, and they’re still sitting on the territory as well.

And then always our final question — what are three books you would recommend to the audience?

Yeah, thank you so much for giving me a chance to recommend some great books. The first I would recommend is Antony Anghie’s “Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law,” which retells the history of international law, as well as the intellectual history of canonical European jurists, by centering the colonial encounter as the structuring event that triggered the emergence of international law as we know it.

I would also recommend Noura Erakat’s “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine,” which provides a detailed and highly readable account of how international law first facilitated British colonial rule, and then how it’s been used by Israelis and Palestinians to organize on the one hand, and resist on the other.

I would also recommend Adom Getachew’s “Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination,” which returns to the era of decolonization to offer an account of how the principle of self-determination was differently understood by anticolonial leaders and how that understanding, had it prevailed, might have yielded alternatives to logics of partition logics, like the logic that underlies the U.N.‘s involvement in Israel-Palestine and ideas of the two-state solution.

And then, with your indulgence, I’m going to recommend a fourth book — Aziz Rana’s “The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document That Fails Them,” which is a wonderful book just published that provides an eye-opening and beautifully rendered account of how we, as Americans, came to be bound to a Constitution that makes it so difficult to hold our own government accountable or to translate public preferences into changes in our policies, a question that I believe has renewed urgency at a time when polls show that consistent majorities in the United States support a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

Aslı Bâli, thank you very much.

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota and Isaac Jones. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team includes Annie Galvin, Rollin Hu, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin, with original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser, and special thanks to Carole Sabouraud.

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Produced by ‘The Ezra Klein Show’

The international legal system was created to prevent the atrocities of World War II from happening again. The United Nations partitioned historic Palestine to create the states of Israel and Palestine but also left Palestinians with decades of false promises. The war in Gaza — and countless other conflicts, including those in Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia — shows how little power the U.N. and international law have to protect civilians in wartime. So what is international law actually for?

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio app , Apple , Spotify , Amazon Music , YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts .]

Aslı Ü. Bâli is a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in international and comparative law. “The fact that people break the law and sometimes get away with it doesn’t mean the law doesn’t exist and doesn’t have force,” she argues.

In this conversation, Bâli traces the gap between international law as written and the realpolitik of how countries follow it, the U.N.’s unique role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its very beginning, how the laws of war have failed Gazans but may be starting to change the conflict’s course and more.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio app , Apple , Spotify , Google or wherever you get your podcasts . View a list of book recommendations from our guests here .

(A full transcript of this episode is available here .)

An image of the United Nations Security Council

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota and Isaac Jones. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Carole Sabouraud.

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .


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  9. Domestic Violence Research

    and the Association of Domestic Violence Intervention Providers www.domesticviolenceintervention.net. Over the years, research on partner abuse has become unnecessarily fragmented and politicized. The purpose of The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK) is to bring together in a rigorously evidence-based, transparent and methodical ...

  10. Domestic Violence: Feminist Perspective

    Domestic violence is prevalent in most, if not all, countries and cultures in the world (World Health Organization, 2008) and is very hard to detect, as generally the victims are too powerless, fearful, intimidated, or ashamed to disclose the abuse. Central to feminist definitions of domestic violence is the misuse and abuse of power and ...

  11. PDF Women Subjected to Domestic Violence

    In the United States, about one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. "About 1,200 women every year are killed by their intimate partners" (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Justice, 2000, cited by Stein, 2014, p.1). In France, due to its scale and severity, domestic ...

  12. (PDF) The sociological significance of domestic violence: Tensions

    Abstract. Sociology and sociological theory has been effective in analyzing societal and institutional conflict and violence, but less so the specifics of interpersonal violence. This article ...

  13. Research & Evidence

    The Domestic Violence Evidence Project (DVEP) is a multi-faceted, multi-year and highly collaborative effort designed to assist state coalitions, local domestic violence programs, researchers, and other allied individuals and organizations better respond to the growing emphasis on identifying and integrating evidence-based practice into their work. . DVEP brings together research, evaluation ...

  14. Violence against women

    Overview. The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life" (1). Intimate partner violence refers to behaviour by an intimate partner ...

  15. The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Dependency

    Introduction. The 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill proposes to establish a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes 'controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse' encompassing 'psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms of abuse' (HM Government, 2019: 5).It proposes to widen the scope of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders so that suspected ...

  16. About Intimate Partner Violence

    Quick facts and stats. IPV is common. It affects millions of people in the United States each year. Data from CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) indicate: 2 About 41% of women and 26% of men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported a related impact.

  17. (PDF) Domestic Violence

    Domestic violence against women is a serious public health concern and human rights violation among pregnant mothers because of its negative effect on the life of both the mother and the fetus ...

  18. Senate Passes Legislation to Empower Survivors of Domestic and Sexual

    The New York State Senate today passed legislation to strengthen the rights of victims of domestic and sexual violence and expand protections for survivors. The legislative package includes measures to prohibit the defense of voluntary intoxication in sex crimes and would add extreme risk protection orders to the statewide computerized registry of protection orders. It clarifies and expands ...

  19. United States v. Rahimi: Does a law prohibiting a person subject to a

    United States v. Rahimi concerns whether a federal law that prohibits persons subject to domestic-violence restraining orders from possessing firearms 1 Footnote 18 United Sates Code, section 922(g)(8) (It shall be unlawful for any person . . . who is subject to a court order that-(A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had an ...

  20. Honoring Lesbian Icons Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

    Martin channeled that energy into her writing as well. Her first solo book, Battered Wives, was published in 1976, becoming the first American book to discuss domestic violence in depth. By then, Martin was also the first out lesbian to have served on the National Organization of Women's board of directors.


    Domestic violence is an offence and is one of the major causes for increase of crime index of the state. Domestic violence is destructive behavior in an intimate relationship where one person ...

  22. Opinion

    From New York Times Opinion, this is "The Ezra Klein Show." On Friday, May 10, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution saying Palestinians qualify for full member status at the U.N ...