Why we need to investigate experiences of Bidirectional Intimate Partner Violence

By Liz Harper and Dr Liz Bates

The Crown Prosecution Service (2021) defines domestic violence and abuse, which includes intimate partner violence (IPV), as “Any behaviour deployed by an offender to obtain control or power over another, and we recognise that emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical violence”. This definition reflects the plethora of academic research that has helped us understand the prevalence of IPV as well as how it impacts families. Where earlier research placed a considerable focus on working with women as victims and men as perpetrators, we now see various research highlighting women’s violence, men’s victimisation, and the prevalence of IPV within the LGBTQ+ community.

Within the body of literature around IPV, a significant finding that has emerged has been around the prevalence of bidirectional, or mutual violence; evidence that both partners can perpetrate and be victim to violence in a given relationship, although, this may not always be within each violent episode. There is now significant evidence to suggest that this type of abuse is common within intimate relationships and can be found across various relationships types. In a systematic review of previous literature, the average prevalence of reported IPV that was bidirectional in nature was 57.5% (ranging from a low of 49.2% among the female-oriented, nonmilitary treatment-seeking samples to a high of 69.7% among the male-oriented, military legal/justice samples; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2012). This has prompted researchers to re-evaluate the roles people can take in relationship violence including the impact this may have on risk assessment and intervention.

Bidirectional or mutual violence can be prevalent and unrelenting in matters both big and small. It suggests that both partners can display aggressive behaviours during a conflict. Although, this may not be with each episode of conflict and may not be symmetrical. Examples of bidirectional or mutual violence could include:

  • Where both of you are verbally and physically aggressive during an argument.
  • Where both of you have acted aggressively during an argument but this may not be with every argument.
  • Where you may both use coercive controlling or more psychologically abusive behaviours (e.g., checking each other’s phones, checking where each other are, calling each other names, humiliating and denigrating each other, gaslighting).
  • Where you may have both utilised abusive tactics to influence your partner’s daily life (e.g., relationships with friends/ family/ children, jobs, finances).

The gendered model of IPV is still largely influential within society; positioning IPV as unidirectional from predominantly male perpetrators towards female victims. The model has informed gendered stereotypes around IPV and these societal perceptions can be noted within assessments of bidirectional scenarios. Hine et al. (2020) found participants were significantly less likely to label men as ‘victims’ and women as ‘perpetrators’ and were less likely to recommend that a man should ‘call the police’ in bidirectional abuse scenarios. This further highlights how the focus on unidirectional research has largely influenced how society perceives IPV scenarios.

Previous research on the subject has explored the issue of bidirectional abuse through the analysis of existing literature or through the quantitative analysis of IPV in relationships. Furthermore, there has been numerous studies and articles investigating men’s and women’s victimisation of unidirectional violence through qualitative and experiential means. Bidirectional IPV appears to be understudied in this way and this has been acknowledged by other scholars who suggest that future research should “seek to utilize examples of IPV that are as representative of experiential accounts as possible” (Hine et al., 2020, p. 17).

To try and fill this gap in the literature, I have launched my dissertation study with the support of my supervisor (Dr Liz Bates) as well other staff from the University of Cumbria. The aim of the research is to investigate experiences of bidirectional IPV to develop a better understanding and greater evidence base to support all victim/perpetrator groups. The study includes an anonymous online qualitative questionnaire to bring context and to fully investigate participant experience in all aspects. With the sensitivity of the subject, including the potential of this being a participant’s first disclosure of their experiences, the use of an anonymous open-ended survey will allow participants to feel less restricted when talking about their experiences. The questionnaire should take between 30- 45 minutes to complete.

For more information about the study or to take part in the survey, please click here: Survey Link.

One thought on “Why we need to investigate experiences of Bidirectional Intimate Partner Violence

  1. William Taylor says

    If domestic violence is to be more successfully addressed it is important that mutual or bidirectional IPV is better understood.

    It accounts for a substantial amount of DV and we confront the reality that DV is not gendered.

    An examination and study of this abuse in relationships will give more insight into IPV behaviour and a strategy to reduce such abuse it may be developed. This is so important not just for a couple but especially couples with children.


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