U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites always use a .gov or .mil domain. Before sharing sensitive information online, make sure you’re on a .gov or .mil site by inspecting your browser’s address (or “location”) bar.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Transcript of "The 'Real World' of Dating Violence in Adolescence and Young Adulthood"

Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)/presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

An NIJ Research for the Real World Seminar
Peggy Giordano, Ph.D., Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology, Bowling Green State University

September 29, 2014

THOMAS FEUCHT: Good morning and welcome to today’s Research in the Real World seminar sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. I’m Tom Feucht from NIJ. It’s my pleasure to welcome you and to introduce today’s speaker.

Peggy Giordano is a Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at Bowling Green State University. She has a long-standing interest in the ways in which close relationships connect to crime and violent behavior. In addition to studies focusing on peer and romantic partner effects, she has examined the impact of parental criminality on adolescent behavior and well-being. And much of this research is summarized in her recent book, Legacies of Crime, published by Cambridge University Press. She is the lead researcher on a 13-year study of the dating relationships of a large sample of young people interviewed in adolescence and across the transition to adulthood.

In this study Giordano is exploring relationship-specific risk factors for dating violence and has identified individual and social changes that are associated with the cessation of this form of violent behavior. Professor Giordano is a prolific researcher with scores of research papers to her credit. She has twice received the Outstanding Research Paper Award from the American Sociological Association, and in 2006 she was selected as a Fellow of the American Society of Criminology. She is here with us today to tell us about her continuing research on the important issues of adolescent development, human relationships and violence. Please join me in welcoming Professor Peggy Giordano.

PEGGY GIORDANO: Well, thank you, Tom, for that nice introduction, and thank you to all of you who came out today. I know you have the press of other obligations, and so I really appreciate your willingness to listen to our findings about our study, and I hope that you do have questions at the end and that we can have a good dialog about some of the meanings of these findings and whether they do have any implications for policy and practice.

So I also want to thank NIJ for the financial support of this project, and I think that the financial support is just the beginning of it, because folks at NIJ have been so supportive in the many different other ways all through every single phase of this research, and I do mean that very sincerely — that they’re interested in the findings themselves, and that means a lot. And I neglected to mention my two co-investigators, which are Wendy Manning, a demographer, and Monica Longmore, who is a social psychologist. And we kind of come at these problems from different angles and different research traditions, but I think it’s been a fruitful collaboration since about 1999 that we’ve been working together on this.

All right, so if we look at research and official statistics, as well as self-report, they do indicate that these are peak periods. The periods that we’re studying in this Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study are showing quite a bit of violence in adolescence and in the young adult period. And some of this research does show that the young adult period in particular is particularly risky. Now, this landscape of research that’s out there is changing rapidly. There is more research today on teen dating violence, but historically there was more research on older married couples — research that was based on clinical samples or shelter samples — and some of that research was pivotal for developing our initial prevention and intervention materials. So we thought that this was a good opportunity to sort of piggyback on this more general study of adolescent and young adult romantic relationships, because we kept hearing in our interviews about significant levels of conflict and even violence that were occurring across this larger sample. And so at Wave 5 — this was the fifth wave of interviews that was supported by NIJ — to really focus in on violence patterns.

So, what I want to do today — I have a few goals, so let’s see if we can get through these goals in our 55-minute allotment. But I wanted to take a small step back, if I could, and tell you just some highlights about our more general study, because I do think this provides an excellent frame for understanding the findings, as they eventually come out, that have to do specifically with intimate partner violence. So you may be a little frustrated for a minute with, “Why are you talking about these things?” But I do think that people who get into these more serious conflicts — they’re not from Mars, they’re not from Mars or Venus — they are just regular people. And so if we have a more general understanding of what these — the characteristics of these early relationships — are like, I think that positions us to do a better job of understanding that endpoint that is unfortunate.

So then, I want to move into intimate partner violence itself and talk about our relationship risk factors that we’ve found are important to understanding risk. And the third goal here is to look more broadly at patterns relying on the full five waves, and that’s one of the unique features, is that we’re able to look across five waves — from the time young people were 13 until they’re almost 29 — and see developmental progressions and variability across the sample.

And then the fourth objective here is to look at what we call “desistance.” If anybody is a criminologist or in that world, there is that term desistance, which just means, “stopping crime.” And most of the research is on entering crime, but there’s a small set of people that do research on the stopping process. And I’ve been interested in that work for a long time. And so here we have a chance to look at intimate partner violence desistance. And to our knowledge, this is the only lifecourse treatment of intimate partner violence desistance that’s out there. Certainly, there are smaller studies that look at, “You took this program and then we followed you six months out,” but I believe that this is the only study of the intimate partner violence desistance. Not that it’s a full working, you know. It’s not completed. It’s ongoing. And then finally, I hope to suggest some implications of our work for policy and practice, as we know it.

Okay. So let’s do start with some relationship factors that have been hypothesized to be related to intimate partner violence. And so I’m sure many of you are familiar with this key assumption that intimate partner violence is not about anger but it’s fundamentally about power and control, right? So we’ve heard that a lot. And so these are relationship dynamics. They’re not, you know — we know that family history is important, but this is actually getting closer to the world of these relationships. So I like that. That’s something that we’ve been studying and that we want to study in more detail. And as you may be familiar with this power and control wheel, this is a teaching tool that’s been employed in different prevention settings and even intervention settings that has power and control at the center of this wheel with various spokes.

One of the spokes is called “male privilege,” and in the teen power and control wheel I think that’s called “using social status,” but the actual content of it is similar. And it’s defined as treating her like a servant, making all of the big decisions, acting like the master of the castle, being the one to define men’s and women’s roles. And so we can see that IPV has meaning as an extension of the control or dominance motive.

If you look at the more general research on adolescent relationships, you see that there are a lot of parallels from that more focused work in the more general research on, what are young adult relationships like? What are adolescent relationships like? And so there are these assumptions, and one of the assumptions is that the transition from same-gender relationships to romance is more easily accomplished for boys, and that boys are relatively — when you get right down to it — less engaged in these relationships. And then from that, boys fundamentally have more power within the early adolescent relationships. And I kind of like to call this in my mind — but now I’ll call it for you — “the steamroller hypothesis”: the idea that young men just learn a kind of competitive interaction style and a dominance kind of style within their same-gender peer relationships, and they kind of move forward and just sort of bluster ahead in a way that then creates asymmetries within these relationships. But few studies had actually looked at, what are the dynamics that are within these early relationships? What are they actually like? And so most of the early research was basically just focused on sexuality. If you ever picked up an adolescent psychology textbook you would have the peer chapter, the parent chapter and the sexuality chapter, right? And it wasn’t a chapter on the relationships as relationships. So that was the interest that we had.

So, we began to do this study which emerged to be a five-wave study that is a large sample — over 1,200 young people that were adolescents in 2001 — and it is a diverse sample that includes oversamples of African-American and Hispanic youth. It is a school-based sample in the sense that we got the information — the names — from school rosters, but then there was no school requirement. So it’s not really school-based in the fullest sense. I think a unique feature of TARS is that, at most waves of the study, we conducted very in-depth, lengthy interviews with a subset of the respondents. So we have this systematically-collected data that were collected on laptops, and then we also had in-depth, in-home interviews with a subset of about 100 of these youth at these waves: 1, 3, 4 and 5. And Wave 5 in particular selected individuals who, in their quantitative information, had told us that they had engaged in violence. And we have different patterns of violence reflected: some who are continuing these unhealthy patterns and some who appear to have desisted. And we also have 50 interviews with a partner — which is kind of an unusual feature — and that research is funded by NICHD.

So our approach has been, at each of the waves, to provide detailed questions about the romantic lives of these respondents, and later as adolescents, and later as young adults. And we also have questions about perpetration and victimization at every wave, and that’s a unique feature of the study because some of our good datasets — such as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or Add Health — that only asks about victimization at the early waves, and now we have perpetration data but it was not — it would not be possible to understand patterns of perpetration across all of the waves of that. And so that’s something that’s been very helpful as we looked at the full reach of this longitudinal dataset. But Wave 5 focuses specifically on intimate partner violence, and it has a lot of the same measurement protocol throughout the five waves, but also includes things that really have to do with violence escalation as well as violence desistance.

Now what I want to do is just quickly show you some general findings from our TARS study. And we hypothesize that these are very early relationships at Wave 1, that these are people who don’t have a lot of experience in navigating relationships. They don’t have much knowledge about how to do romance, and so that there would be quite a bit of communication awkwardness that would characterize these early relationships.

Now here we are showing — these are within individual changes in reports about feelings of communication awkwardness, and this is a by-age assessment. We also look at it across the waves, and you can see the similar pattern. But in the first wave we have people who were 13, 15 and 17, so it’s kind of staggered. But this is a by-age analysis. And at every age — except for maybe the 13-year-old is not significant — but at every age, boys report higher levels of communication awkwardness than girls. And so that’s something that we found at Wave 1 and we were — we thought that there would be, again, a kind of a crossover that would begin to happen as young people matured and boys “got their game on”: became these more confident actors that we all like to think that they are. But as you can see moving forward, that did not happen, and boys continue to report greater communication awkwardness.

Consistent with this pattern, we had another scale that measured dating confidence. And this was a more general scale that included things like knowing how to tell my partner how I’d like to be treated, knowing how to break up with a partner you no longer liked, things like that. Navigating the relationship kind of skills. And we can see that, at every age, young men score lower on dating confidence.

All right, moving into the terrain of intimate partner violence dynamics that have been theorized in prior research, we had a scale that measures the extent to which your partner tries to control you or tries to change you. And as you can see from these growth curves, men report higher levels of partner control attempts at every age. Unless you think that this is just women trying to control their men and men turning a blind ear, we also had a scale that measured how much have you actually changed things about yourself because you thought your partner would like it? Things like that. And it’s not actual influence; it’s their perception that they change things. And so there again, we can see that young men are reporting more actual influence from the romantic partner. And so, if you think about some of these different items, we actually developed them with an eye toward girls — the idea of communication awkwardness. We have the idea of verbal checking in, there: “I sometimes don’t tell my partner things because I’m afraid he’ll get mad at me or she’ll get mad at me.” We thought — we were thinking about girls when we made that item up, and yet boys score higher on that item.

Then we get to kind of the bottom line, which is power, which is a central dimension of thinking about — writing about — intimate partner violence, and it is something that figures into the power and control wheel in a central way. We find that a large percentage — when asked directly about who has the most say in your relationship, who has the most say on specific dimensions of your life together — in general, young people are most often —most often think in terms of egalitarianism. They answer with the egalitarian response. But where there is a divergence, where they think that there is some asymmetry where one person has more power than the other, this is more likely to favor the female partner. And so as just a crude aggregate look at that, girls are more likely to report a more favorable power balance in the relationship. And you can see, then, how these findings provide somewhat of a challenge or a conundrum for thinking about the power and control wheel in general and what we think we know about the dynamics within these early relationships.

So, we have kind of a different view of gender in relationships that may not be just exactly consistent with prior work, in that we said that romantic relationships are something of a new ballgame from a developmental standpoint. This is — you’re not in Kansas anymore, and you may have brought with you certain understandings about, “Yes, I’m competitive, and I have a dominant interaction style,” but this may not be appreciated by your romantic partner and there is going to be resistance to that. Girls have more experience within their same gender relationships, with dyadic interactions, with communication that’s intimate, and so it just all adds up in a slightly different way to the idea that girls are highly likely to make influence attempts within these early relationships. And you cannot understand the nature and dynamics of these relationships without understanding that that is occurring on a fairly frequent basis.

Another way to understand this — I don’t have this on the slide, but my true view is to think about the idea that young men of this age actually do have a lot of things that they could benefit from changing. [Audience laughter] I mean, that’s just simply accurate. So when we get to the basic findings about male aggregate behaviors — seriously, we all know these things: Males have higher levels of drug and alcohol use, they have higher levels of antisocial behavior, they have higher rates of infidelity (which we’re going to hear a lot more about in the next few minutes). So it just doesn’t make sense that young women are completely silent and have nothing to say about these key areas of their lives. And so we find that, in fact, they do.

So, going back to our traditional assertion that IPV is not about anger but about control, we hypothesize that both male and female control attempts are certainly prevalent, and that these may be associated in a significant way with intimate partner violence risk. We also take the second part of that and deconstruct that a little bit, and we focus on the general heightened emotionality of the period and suggest that these are core relationships that are really important to young people. And so negative emotions may also play a role here, and that it’s probably a mistake to oppose these things. Is it anger or is it control? And that there may be a sense in which it’s both anger and control that are involved in how conflicts escalate in terms of IPV risk.

So we looked at this a little bit more systematically across the sample as a whole, and we have a full roster of traditional correlates and covariates here, and then standard predictors that are very important, such as witnessing violence in the home or being the victim of coercive parenting, disadvantaged neighborhood and affiliating with violent peers. And we have a measure of traditional gender roles there: “men should be in charge” kind of measure. And we can see that these relationship-specific factors — both anger and control — are significantly related to the odds of violence, net of traditional predictors.

So we find that the respondent’s own control attempts are significant, but also the partner’s control attempts, and so both of them explain variance. And then in terms of anger, we have a kind of a trait-based anger measure — I don’t even like to call it a trait-based measure — but you see yourself as being a person who can be a pretty mean person sometimes, or if somebody is mean to you you’re going to get back at them, and that’s kind of an “I’m this type of person” measure, but also we assess relationship-based anger — anger that is localized around the partner and the relationship. And that also explains additional variance.

So we think that these research findings add to prior studies that — there actually is quite a bit of research that shows a role for anger, and this just contributes to it and also suggests that there may be mutual control that’s important to consider within these relationships. So it’s not just a one-way pattern of control, but the most risky couples would be couples in which both partners are trying to control and change the other. And this is not really shown in those models, but we did supplemental analysis where we actually did show that the combination of anger and mutual control is more risky, relative to just male control only.

Fundamentally, then, we think that adds something to our general understandings, but there’s a sense in which this is not the complete picture and we keep asking ourselves, is it really control and anger? But more importantly, what is it that these people are angry about? What is it that they’re trying to control? And it’s kind of amazing in a way that we haven’t had more research on these content areas of the disagreements, because we think that that is really an important part of it or an important piece of understanding these dynamics. So then we began to look at that, and really the qualitative data are very helpful here, and these — I have to just explain a little bit about these. These are semi-structured interviews, and most of them are 40 to 60 pages in length when they’re transcribed. So they’re quite extensive, and usually about an hour-and-a-half or sometimes two-hour interviews in which they’re walking through the various relationships in which they’ve been involved and queried about violence. But it’s not just the endpoint of violence, but it’s how violence unfolds within the various relationships.

So, we found that these are three contested areas that come up with some frequency. So financial and economic concerns are a factor, and I think this is important because we may tend to think that young people don’t have a concern with these things. But certainly even in Wave 1 we found that instrumental issues were important, but as young people mature into adulthood, and they begin to cohabit and things begin to be more enmeshed, they do care about the future. They care about their economic viability, their abilities to maintain independence from their parents. All of that starts coming to a head, and so it does figure into some of the discord that we see.

Another thing that is important at this age is the peer/partner balance. So if you think about it, young people are coming from a tradition in which they’re heavily enmeshed in peer worlds, and then they’re beginning to take on more important romantic relationships. But the course of that is not always a smooth one, and it’s not just — when the people talk to us about difficulties in these areas, it isn’t just the idea of a particular number of hours that are spent with those peers and not with me, but it’s what that says about what the relationship means to my partner. If you want to spend all that time with the peer, what does this say about our relationship and how central it is in your life? And perhaps even more importantly, this is providing you with many more opportunities — as long as you’re out, as long as you’re at the bars and so on — that’s providing you with a lot more opportunities for cheating. And so infidelity and infidelity concerns emerge as one of the most important contested domains that were associated with escalating conflicts. And so I think if we have no other goals for our talk today, it would be to remember one word, and that’s “infidelity.” That cuts across the understandings about onset as well as desistance. So infidelity is the word.

But that in itself — these are the sources of many disagreements, but that does not, again, tell the full picture, because people talk about these things through language and communication and essentially communicate their displeasure — disappointments — through language, and so some people talked about how violence escalated when they began to use (or the partner began to use) particularly negative forms of communication to talk about these specific areas. And so we called these things verbal amplifiers: things that take it out of the level of just a regular disagreement and into name calling or ridicule or hurtful statements that the partner has made.

So we looked at this within the context of these qualitative data sources, but also a little more systematically again with the quantitative information. And so as you can see, there is a significant relationship between disappointments with the partner, the partner’s disappointments with you in the financial arena, with the peer partner balance, and with these infidelity concerns. And as you can see in each of these models — these are with a full roster of control, but just looking at each of the separate domains and looking at the use of these verbal amplifiers — and then in the full model — I mean, we don’t always like to have that full model because it does somewhat artificially pit these things against one another as, like, “Which of these dynamics is going to win?” And we know that these are often packages of things that occur simultaneously. But there, if anything is going to win it’s going to be infidelity. So again, with that as a key theme — and the verbal amplifiers are significant, net of all of the other factors assessed.

Just to illustrate this a little bit more concretely, we reason that in those relationships in which contested domains are particularly high — and so this would be a total score across all of the contested domains assessed — and when the use of verbal amplifiers is high, there’s a very high predictive probability of violence occurring in that relationship and reporting — self-reporting — perpetration. And the contrast category there is, the contested domains are low and verbal amplifiers are low. But you can see these other factors are also associated with increased risk. But this is kind of our conceptual category, and this is showing how this clusters at the level of the individual. This is very high odds, and this is net of all of the traditional predictors. So I think this shows relationship factors matter, because these people that have low contested domains and low verbal amplifiers. That is accounting for their family history, that is accounting for their level of delinquency involvement and so forth. It is accounting for the poverty of their neighborhood. And so I think this is probably, in my view, the most important table that we could draw from.

So we conclude from this that relationship factors matter and are important for understanding risk, that there’s value in beginning to reframe the idea of control not as necessarily an endpoint that is oriented towards dominance: “My goal is to just dominate you and to achieve — be the master of the castle.” But it’s linked to these specific contested areas, that negative emotions also feature into this and that some of these traditional frameworks that are critically important just aren’t able to handle or provide adequate explanations of the variability. So if you think family history is destiny — well it isn’t 100 percent destiny because there is that variability, and there’s variability over time within and across relationships.

So this is just a crude look here, but if you think, “Well, we had five waves of data and they had five chances to talk about intimate partner violence across those five waves,” this gives you the percent who reported perpetration across five waves, four waves and so on. And so we can see that about half of this sample has some exposure in terms of perpetration, but the most commonly occurring amount is at one wave — and so that’s certainly not showing the stability of aggression across time — and the second most common is across two waves.

Now that was a little bit of a crude estimate there, but we also had to take into account that these people vary a lot in how many partners they have. So you could actually have had two partners — I mean, you could have one partner, or six — and so forth. And so this is assessing partner-specific information, and just to illustrate, we have all of these statistics on the shifting and changing. But it’s very rare for somebody to be a perpetrator across all of their relationships, as these statistics indicate. And even when you select on something like a risky type of person — say you select on the early delinquents in your sample — only about 4 percent of those individuals report perpetration across all of their relationships.

Now, there is an interest also in forms of involvement because I am a criminologist and I am interested in perpetration, but obviously the key other part of this is victimization. And so we did look at how these combine at the individual level, and so you could be bidirectional, perpetrator only, victimization only. And the analyses of these things indicate significant changes over time, fluidity in the form as well as whether there is IPV or not within and across relationships. Just to provide you with a little snapshot of this, we looked at changes in status from Wave 4 to Wave 5. So, if you take all of the young people who reported any IPV at Wave 4, 72 percent of them changed the form of their involvement or moved into a pattern of desistance entirely, and that’s staying within the same partnership. Then, it’s even more striking moving to a different partner that, of those 213 people who eventually changed partners, 81 percent changed into a pattern where the form was different. And so I think sometimes when we reapply these categories, it’s very risky because there are a lot of people who have tried to model, “This is the way it looks when you’re bidirectional. This is the way it looks when you’re a victim-only.” And even though we all know there’s a substantive victim-only kind of pattern in these kinds of data, it’s just not frozen in that manner, the way you might think that it would be.

And so that’s also illustrated — this variability is also illustrated — by the age IPV curve that we’re able to assess across all of the ages. Here, we show that there is a curvilinear pattern and it is somewhat akin to the age-crime curve, which some of you are probably familiar with. And so there’s several messages from the curve, but you can see that after the early ages, women actually report significantly higher levels of perpetration and they don’t have the same decline that men have. Men’s IPV curves closely parallel their delinquency curves — if I can communicate this to you — they’re very close — whereas women’s curve is not paralleling their delinquency curve. The delinquency curve goes down precipitously as they get in their 20s — just like you might think it would — but the IPV curve does not follow in like manner.

So, this brings up some of the complications of gender that are a bit difficult to talk about, but they’re important to talk about and — just wanted to spend a couple of minutes on that issue. We realize that this is a gendered phenomenon. No question about that. IPV disproportionately affects young women, and they report consistently higher levels of fear and intimidation. There is a disparity in injury. And so there is a gendered nature to this problem, and yet we have a lot of these research studies that do indicate quite a bit of perpetration that’s occurring among young women, and that curve gives you a sense of that.

A lot of the controversy has to do with — what does this mean? And theorizing about what girls’ perpetration actually means. We kind of think we have a sense of what the male perpetration is like, but what is female perpetration like? So I just wanted to give you a little example from the data of a very disturbing male perpetration incident, and so you can read that for yourself, but this was something that went on for hours and hours. It was completely debilitating. He made her call off work the next morning, he rips her off the couch by her hair and drags her into the kitchen and is screaming. So I think these kinds of incidents go beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale, which is just a checkmark on a survey, to tell you about the really intimidating nature of that. But I did want to give you some examples of female perpetration that don’t really conform to that early-held view that women only hit in self-defense, or to protect their children — or things of that nature — that these are primarily self-defense. There’s many, many examples in our data that do not fit this pattern at all. So you can see, “I would straight punch him as hard as I could.” This guy had been involved in numerous incidents and he’s telling his mom, “Yeah, she leaves scratch marks, bruises, cuts — you name it — all over my back, all over the front of me.” “She whacked me so hard. No guy has ever punched me that hard.” She hit him. She took off her stiletto heel and hit him in the back of the head with her stiletto.

This is kind of a pattern in this set — which, I think, is interesting — where you can see that obviously it isn’t a fair fight, but these are cases in which — and this young man was driving, so that creates a little bit of an equalizer. This one is getting out of the shower, and this one is actually sleeping, and he wakes up, and she has a gun to his head, and he said, “I just begged her.” We also have young women who have held knives to their boyfriends’ necks while they were sleeping and then wake them up. So it’s not nothing, I guess is the point. These are serious things from the point of view of men as perpetrators and as victims, and they’re serious. The women, actually, in our qualitative data don’t deny the seriousness of these things, they don’t hide from them, they don’t use the language of self-defense in many instances. So that’s something I think —in terms of their own meanings, that’s how they understand it.

So given this variability in the sample, we wanted to see about these changers. How do they change? What’s the process of change? One of the things about criminal desistance — or how do you change from smoking, or how do you stop drinking — there is an individualistic flavor to that. And so one of the features of this is that this is fundamentally a dyadic behavior, and so there’s many pathways to change that are opened up from that: you can get a new partner; you can modify your own behavior; you can work together with a partner. So it’s not the same kind of thing as smoking cessation, which is going to be an individualistic type of pathway. That’s one thing. And then the second point I wanted to make is that these are behaviors that they’re positioning against that are understood as negative behaviors. This is not something that’s a source of status enhancement. It’s something that’s linked to depression. It’s related to relationship churning. And so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that there are attempts to change.

So, we looked at these various hooks for change — or you could think of these as catalysts for change — and we found that some people actually did think about arrest and jail as something they wanted to avoid, and I think this is important as a backdrop because these are not jail samples. They’re not people that actually have most often been to jail, and yet it’s in their consciousness that they thought about that this could be a possibility. And being involved in some altercations that raise the specter of jail for them enough to have them re-evaluate and rethink what they’re doing within these relationships that led to this.

A second hook for change that was mentioned quite a bit was parenthood and the fact that they want to think about the well being of their children. The bottom-line — relationship-based changes were mentioned most often. And so we just actually did some counts within the qualitative data: about 37 percent mentioned jail, 46 percent parenthood. But an overwhelming majority are talking about these changes in relationship terms — that they want to change it not just for their children, but because having a good heterosexual relationship or same-sex relationship or romantic relationship — it’s important. It’s a key feature of your life, and they often understood this as a goal, but also that the means to change has to be relationship-based. It has to be something that’s worked through at the relationship level. So you might have this thing — “I want to do right by my children”; “I want to avoid jail” — but fundamentally, it has to be how this is worked out at the local level on a daily basis.

She does some traditional change-language here. At the bottom here she says, “It’s got to be something in you that you have to change for yourself in order to not be so angry.” And this is a — I also use this as an example because this is a woman who doesn’t sugarcoat her own involvement. She says she realizes that the partner could be putting her in danger, but she turns right around and says, “Or by me putting you in danger that doesn’t help either one of us, me fighting you or allowing myself to hit. I should just leave you.” So she’s working all through this in her mind and does incorporate her own need to change in this. You can’t be happy being that angry and treating a person — or attacking a person. It’s shocking. So there is a redefinition process and a self-reflection, I think, that are found in these narratives of change.

Now this guy, Chad, he actually was sent to jail, so he had jail in his background. He had mandated anger management in his background, and he had a girlfriend that had a restraining order put out on him and who lived with her parents for eight months. And so you could say that, sort of, the hammer might be involved in his change efforts. But he wanted to narrate this in relationship terms. So he wasn’t just saying, “Yeah, I’ve got to avoid it because next time it’s a felony,” or something like that. He’s saying, “I want — this relationship is important to me. Sometimes she doesn’t agree with that but I’m getting older and I want — I don’t want to waste time arguing. I want to go forwards, not backwards. I want to — I don’t want to stay in the same place.” And similarly, you have the parent-oriented narratives. Like, this young woman is saying, “I don’t want the kids to take that to their brain, like this is the way a relationship is supposed to be.” So that’s all well and good as a hook for change, but eventually she’s going to have to work this out at the relational level, is our point. This particular woman, we code her as “in-process.” She’s not a full desister, because she hasn’t really put all of the elements of that in place. And one of the challenges in studying a group is that they’re on that decline right now that you saw in terms of the curve, so not all of them are there yet, and they’re just saying, “I know I’ve got to put the kids ahead and that’s really important,” but yet they haven’t put all of those elements in place at this point.

Some of the specific lessons learned relate right there to the violence itself. So, this is a direct narrative about violence. She learned that it doesn’t work. So that’s just very pragmatic. And one of the things that happened to her is that she enacted violence across two different relationships, and she says in the larger narratives that, “I learned that I may not be able to sustain a relationship if I don’t stop doing this,” because having done it across two partners helped her to understand, well, it isn’t just the difficulties with that one partner. But yet, she still goes back into the anger that motivated her in the first place and she calls herself — “I was like the Incredible Hulk” — that there was this major anger. Why? Something that he did because of what they were doing and what they were saying. And those are our contested domains, and our verbal amplifiers are showing themselves even in these narratives of desistance. But you have to learn how to walk those things back. And so, on point to that, a lot of the narratives actually have to do with the pathways in as being a way to have — to travel, and a pathway out. So, a lot of them talk not just about not hitting — of course “not hitting” — no one thinks hitting is good — but they learned that if they are going to go on cheating on their partners, there’s going to continue to be turmoil within these relationships. So Eric, there, learned how to be faithful, and you can see that he experienced it, he didn’t like it, there is a learning curve underpinning to that statement. There’s a little bit of empathy here for Andrew. “I learned how I used to make Lisa feel when I used to do it and I’m like, ‘Okay, I don’t want that to happen to me.’” Now another variation on that is when young people say, “I’m not going to tolerate cheating or infidelity in the relationship,” which is a different variation, but it relates to that risk factor. So this young lady, Jennifer — “No, I’m not doing that. I don’t care who you are I’m not doing that.” So it’s not just a cognitive transformation about, “Oh, I learned that hitting was wrong,” but, “I learned that these features are going to fundamentally result in unstable, conflictual, heightened emotionality type of relationships that may lead to violence.” Similarly, there is a lot in these data about learning to communicate in a better way. And they talk about this in the past tense, which is a positive thing. All of these are complete desisters according to our coding scheme: “You know, I used to leave these really nasty messages. I used to scream.” Edward is actually positing a dyadic pathway here: “We talk about it a lot now.”

That’s kind of a quick overview of onset and decline. What are some implications? I think the references to arrest and jail are important, because they suggest some societal changes and the impact of women’s movement attempts to shift the normative climate in these areas so that the men are not saying, “Hey, nobody is going to do anything anyway.” I think, in fact, in this kind of sample, to have them make such references to jail is stunning, and it indicates, maybe, that a lot of people actually think that the justice system is even more certain and swift than it actually is, because the scholarly literature is all about how it’s difficult to prosecute these cases and it’s mired in the problems, but yet here they are: “I don’t want to go to jail”; “Cops are going to get called.” So I think that’s all to the good, and yet I do feel that there is a role for relationship-centered approaches to this problem, and a recognition that dyadic processes are involved even while we try to tread that line and avoid any kind of victim blaming or equating that men’s and women’s experiences are the same.

I think — in terms of the power and control wheel, which is this key teaching tool, I would work more with control and try to bring this down to a level that’s very understandable to young people, and they will, I believe, understand our findings because they came from young people — and a large set of them — and that there is not just the endpoint of domination as a goal, but just the idea that “I want my partner to change in these specific ways,” and that connects to these strident attempts to control the partner that we see in the narratives.

Also, I think there’s a real possibility to heighten negative meanings of the use of these unhealthy control tactics, and to position these further as a reflection of relationship vulnerabilities. So, I think that terms like “male privilege” and “power” that have been used — and for good reason — but they’re kind of positive, you know — “Oh, that’s my privilege,” or, “I have power” — which isn’t at all indicative of the fluidity of power within relationships, the constantly changing nature of that — and so, I think the more we posit that these acts that you’re engaging in are actually showing your own vulnerability, that that would be something that people would want to get away from. And we do this to a certain extent when we say, “Hitting is not manly,” and things that are kind of overarching or global things. But I think — more at the local level about why you’re acting in these ways to try to control a partner — it’s showing you are very vulnerable.

So in that regard, I think it’s important to move beyond traditional frames. And we have the key frame that the jealous, controlling boyfriend is trying to dominate and control and isolate the young woman. That is a key frame. There is nothing wrong with that. That is out there. That is important. But it’s almost like that old thing where you overlay another layer onto this. There’s multiple frames that coexist. They coexist within our data and they coexist out there in society, that many of the sources of discord have to do with warranted concerns regarding male infidelity. If you look at infidelity within our sample, 88 percent of the times when there is infidelity in a relationship, male infidelity is involved. And now, in 55 percent of the time, female infidelity is involved. So you have — very unlikely that there’s female-only infidelity, is kind of the message there. Both can be real. So I think the way we position this is as though jealousy is some sort of a monolithic trait: “Where does it come from? It’s just some crazy jealousy of the boyfriend,” and sometimes people really are wanting to move on. Sometimes they really are angry that the person that’s very important to them has been unfaithful and they find the text message and it is real.

In line with that then, I think there’s a need to move toward a more nuanced view of anger and IPV, because emotions come into play. And not just strategic elements, you know: “This is my strategic interest in controlling you.” And so yes, let’s allow that there are these emotions, but that people need to understand that it’s not the opposite of reason or rational thinking, and that, I think, newer perspectives on emotions show that emotion and cognition are fellow travelers. There are things that are underpinning. You know, these are not people that just flew off the handle, “Oh, I didn’t know why I was doing it. I have no clue why this happened.” They understand it. It’s linked to these concrete concerns, and so it is malleable. People do change in their ability to work with their emotions, but at a certain level just learning anger management is — it’s a good thing in some cases, but it doesn’t speak to these content areas. If every single thing in your life is unbalanced and everything in your relationship has not been settled, just learning a particular anger — you know, how to distress yourself or something like that — may not go all the way. But I think that some of the people within our sample that are the most recalcitrant persisters — in other words they don’t even try to come up with the change narratives — they actually do believe that anger is something that just literally builds up like a steam engine and that it has to be released and things like that. Like this gal just said, “My hands just moved by their self.” You know? And that is something that could be addressed, and emotions really don’t exist on their own outside of these individual felt realities, and interactions and so forth.

Again, I would consider that a lot of these prevention materials list different kinds of things that could be considered abuse, and so they deal with relationships, but it’s like, how many more forms of abuse are there? So there’s now cell phone monitoring and there’s all of the different technology monitoring, and those are all forms of abuse. It’s important to understand that these are controlling and so on, but I would back it up and, again, deal with some of these concrete issues, like infidelity. Just to give you an example, we have an analysis that’s just going to be in Sociological Forum that shows that infidelity at the school level is associated with IPV. So, net of poverty and general violence within a school, the actual school-level rates of infidelity are related to intimate partner violence. And so, that’s why I’m somewhat obsessed by the infidelity piece.

I also think that there’s a role of avoiding broad gender-based generalizations such as, “Women get hurt, and men laugh.” I think that’s one thing that’s very problematic to just — there is an older finding that says that men’s response to these things is to laugh, and there is some truth to that, but we do show that there’s a systematic link to men’s depression within our data. And so I don’t think that’s really helpful. I think that should be — if it were up to me I would take it off all program materials at this time.

I think that the research on discontinuities in these relationships — even within a given relationship and across them — does provide some reason for optimism about possibilities for change, and that early prevention and intervention — I mean, everybody says this but it actually would be important to get a start early as they’re navigating these relationships, and try to interrupt these processes before they become chronic or firmly entrenched. And one of the things that is kind of a general lesson from the TARS study is that young men and women really do like talking about relationships. It’s not hard once we got the study going, you know. I mean, we’ve tried to talk about different things like educational aspirations or whatever, and it gives you, like, almost no time, and they’re like, “I don’t really know. I guess I want to be an NBA player,” or whatever, and that’s it. That’s it. But they can go on literally forever about these things, and it’s important to them, and I think by virtue of that it’s a good opportunity to have more healthy relationships — kinds of programs that don’t just limit to, “This is unhealthy for you to control and hit your partner,” because they know that now, and to get into those sequences of action and reaction that may eventuate in violent actions.


FEUCHT: So we’ve got time for your questions —


FEUCHT: — for Peggy. Just a reminder to please step up to the microphones and introduce yourselves as you present your questions to Peggy.

NADINE FREDERIQUE: Hi, my name is Nadine Frederique. I’m from NIJ. Very interesting talk, thank you. I wanted to go back — so you talked about verbal amplifiers —


FREDERIQUE: — and I kind of wondered if, through the qualitative data or the quantitative data, if you were able to kind of disentangle how the verbal amplifiers enhance violence? So kind of like — they start out at the argument stage and then escalate to violence, like — is there a pattern to that or is it kind of cyclical or were you able to disentangle that at all?

GIORDANO: Yeah. So if you think about linking it — a lot of times — to the contested domain, sort of the classic that we have in our data would be, the young man comes home after a very long period of time, and he’s been out until 3:00 a.m. and so there’s an altercation that happens, and a lot of times these things are tied to the contested domain. So I’m thinking about one young woman who says, “You are nothing but your mother. You are your mother.” And so for normal people that don’t know these people, that’s nothing, you know? It’s not so bad, it’s not a terrible name, but in his family the mother was a deadbeat mom who left their family and didn’t take care of the children. And so to call him his mother, you know — and she said, “He was caught in every single lie. I told him you’re nothing but your mother.” And I think he swung at her first, in terms of that negative attribution, and then she just went after him and just pummeled him right in front of the children. And she said, “I felt really good to do that. It felt bad because my kids were there.” But that was that sequence.

But I have to say, not all of this is perfectly connected to the contested domains, because in that graph chart you did see that just the use of these verbal amplifiers was risky in itself. So in general, people don’t like to have negative labels and negative attributions about them in their face, you know? And people who are intimate with one another, they know what some of these labels and sensitive areas are. That’s why I think another important finding that we didn’t talk about in here is that duration of the relationship is positively associated with violence in these young relationships. That means you don’t just get into a relationship for two weeks and start engaging in intimate partner violence; these are things that build up. There are many reasons for that, but you have more sources of discord, but there’s more at stake. You thought this relationship was going somewhere and now he turns around and does this, or whatever the case may be. There’s a lot going on here, and so they know some of those buttons to push, and of course they use that language, “Well, I know the buttons to push,” or, “He would know the buttons to push.” Or just even a pattern of mocking. A lot of the women — if the men would sort of mock their concerns — like, “I’m telling you these concerns and now you literally are mocking my concerns as though it’s not a serious issue.” So there’s a lot more that could be done in that area of how it moves from — of course many, many studies show verbal conflict is related to physical conflict, right? So we know that, but like, what is it? I think your question is a great one that way; more to be done on that.

SUSAN HOWLEY: Susan Howley, National Center for Victims of Crime. This is a really exciting study. Thank you very much. It’s given me a lot to think about. But I had a question about this scale that showed women’s higher use of IPV as opposed to men, and I wondered what the question was and whether there’s a possibility that women are just being more self-reflective and name it more quickly than the men do, especially for lower-level violence?

GIORDANO: Right, so that’s always a concern and this is the Conflict Tactics Scale, which is sort of a standard measurement about, “Have you ever hit, kicked, slapped, or — hit, or — hit?” Does anybody know this? It’s, “Hit, slap, punch” — it’s one item. We have more items on the final wave because that was a key interest, but it’s just a very short screen that doesn’t get at serious/non-serious. I don’t think it’s just the fact that the women are referring to, like, a slap versus the men hitting, because even when we restrict it to just the hit item they score higher on that as well. But obviously, as we’ve seen in recent media treatments, a hitting that a girl is doing and the hitting that a boy is doing are quite different in their impact, often. And so, it’s not that the consequence is different. But I don’t think it’s accurate to think of these as just a playful slap. None of these, none of these were they talking about playful hitting at all. That’s a myth that that’s play fighting.

COLLEEN GALLOPIN: Hi, I’m Colleen Gallopin from DC Forensic Nurse Examiners and Break the Cycle, very recently. I’m curious if out of the qualitative — primarily the qualitative part of your study — anything related to sexual violence came up. I know it’s not necessarily covered by the quantitative measures as much but how did it come up and —

GIORDANO: Yeah, sexual violence — very important — and we do have a component on sexual violence and we’re working on that right now. So one of the problems is, I tend to think that sexual violence occurs on the margins of relationships, sometimes with acquaintances, and it also occurs in core primary relationships, too. But we have now the more systematic data on the partner violence that’s sexual, and the actual rates of literally physical violence that’s of a sexual nature is quite low, it’s low in there when you’re focusing on your core primary partner. But there are other kinds of sexual manipulation that occur and we have relatively high rates of people sort of manipulating their partner to have sex and that sort of thing.

But let me just tell you about one finding that I think is really interesting in that regard. And again, this is something that’s on websites a lot, and it has to do with condom coercion, and there’s a big interest in this now where men would not allow their partners to use a condom. So that’s, like, in the sexual arena, that’s a coercive, and so it counts as that. And so we found, surprisingly, not expecting women — well, men report higher levels of condom coercion. That is, they report to a higher degree that their partner tried to convince them not to use a condom or dissuaded them from using a condom. And so I think that’s another example of our views that this is all one way, and we’re kind of thinking about the men in that regard, and we began to study that because we were talking to some people from the state level who do practice work and they were talking about condom coercion, you know, “That’s a big issue” — and it is. And of course there are those men that would be in that subset as well, but it’s just that the rate was high for women. And there are many reasons why you can imagine why that would be true.

AKIVA LIBERMAN: Thank you. That was a great talk. My name is Akiva Liberman. I’m with Urban Institute. I wanted to ask you about something that got mentioned tangentially that you haven’t discussed explicitly and that jumped off the page to me from your first model that you presented. And the largest coefficient there was a control variable — it was witnessing your parents’ violence. And I’m wondering, does that play out in terms of whether or not people amplify, in terms of how people respond to infidelity? Is there a whole social learning thing there?

GIORDANO: There is definitely a social learning thing there, and I’m a big social learning theorist so that’s my bread-and-butter theoretical position. So, I think one of the reasons why that coefficient was as big as it was, however, is that that’s a retrospective item from Wave 5, so it’s not — it wasn’t — it’s not a prospective look at it. But still it’s significant, and we have a paper right now where we’re looking at patterns of continuity and discontinuity. So of all of the people who did report parental coercion and early family history then there are, you know, about 50 percent who don’t go down that pathway of being violent themselves and about 50 percent who do. What are the factors that predict who goes this way and who goes that way? And of course the relationship — the relationships — that you subsequently have, they’re also a source of social learning. So you can get with people who are like, “We just don’t do this in our family. She never did this. Nobody in her family is a fighter like we all used to be,” and so on. And so that’s, like, a natural way to learn a different pattern. But absolutely, it is important not to ever forget that early modeling, because you have to — you know, I sometimes come back to this and think, “Yes, there are all of those contested domains.” But we all have contested domains, right? We all have the financial concerns and stuff, and we may not hit our partners. And so you have to come back to the fact that they have these expectancies in their background, they have this as part of their behavioral repertoire going in. And so under the condition of those stressful circumstances, this is where it comes out.

We also have some data from a student completing a dissertation that showed that family history is associated with normative beliefs that support the use of aggression under some circumstances. And they’re very specific, it’s not like, “Oh, aggression is a great tool.” It’s basically for hitting back, or when somebody does cheat on your or they humiliate you or something. And so that’s related to that family background, and then you’re carrying it forward with you. So, absolutely. Good question. Thank you.

MARYJO OSTER: I have a question about the — my name is Maryjo Oster, I’m a research scientist with Child Trends, and I have a question about that last bullet that’s on the slide right now about prevention and intervention. One of the areas that Child Trends has worked on is healthy marriage and relationship education, and another slightly connected area would be adolescent pregnancy prevention —


OSTER: — and in the latter area there’s a lot of evidence-based programs, programs that have actually been done over and over again and shown to have significant effects — and I’m wondering if there’s anything of that nature — the evidence-based program specifically — that pertains to IPV specifically, in or not in the context of healthy marriage and relationship education.

GIORDANO: Okay. Well, I think that — I would like to see more of this IPV piece being incorporated into the more general health and marriage programs. I mean, that’s kind of, I think, where Child Trends has got a lot going on right now or — thinking in those terms. And I think that’s certainly appropriate. And then it doesn’t — it makes the kind of slides that I showed at the beginning, like, how do, you know — there’s a lot of people that try to control each other and so on and it doesn’t just immediately hone down on only violence because violence, in a lot of these early relationships, is not a common thing — everyday routine — and it’s just an extension of these other possibly destructive patterns. And so, I really think there’s a lot of exciting possibilities around working that into those more general ones that were never developed with the IPV in mind but now are kind of coming back and saying, “Hey, there’s a certain percentage of our population that has this, and how do we screen for that?” and so on.

But I would just make sure that some of these themes, the dyadic themes and grappling with women’s concerns, I mean — one of the things that I think is that, in our efforts to help women, which is the bottom line goal, we’ve actually kept women’s views kind of silent. We’re so afraid of saying that something a woman said caused it, or something that she did caused it that we say nothing about women, and it’s all on gender socialization of the male and so forth, and so I think those programs are well-positioned to talk about communication patterns, and some of these kids could benefit from things like the fair fighting ideas. The few that have been to anger management — it’s like they don’t know certain basic tools of communication. So even though I might have an interest in these contested domains and so forth — but even net of that or taking that into account, they could learn some of these absolute basics about how to keep it on topic and don’t bring up the old things from a prior incident five years ago and all the rest, which those programs are more likely to address. But also I think those programs have to be very concerned with the real problems that people have, too, because just good communication is something everybody knows, but yet “we have no visible income” is a structural constraint that may continue to filter in even if you learn about timeouts or writing your thoughts down and so on.

HEATHER SARMIENTO: Hi, my name is Heather Sarmiento. I’m from the Office for Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services of Fairfax County, and part of my job — I work with teenagers doing prevention work, and what interested me is when you were talking about how more females or younger girls — younger women — were saying that they were the ones who were trying to control, or they were perpetrating — just trying to influence their partner more — and then young men saying that they have higher rates of changing for a partner. So I was wondering, how does that correlate later on? Are the people in those relationships — which one is more likely to use the violence, the physical violence?

GIORDANO: The one who changed you mean?

SARMIENTO: Yeah, the one where — if men are saying that they are being controlled more, or they have this feeling that there’s an implication that they need to change, are they more likely to perpetrate or do you feel like the female would be more likely to perpetrate? I didn’t — I don’t know if there’s any correlation.

GIORDANO: Within that whole sample you have subgroups that would represent different configurations of that. And so we found that the highest level of risk was associated with both male and female constantly trying to get the other person to change. There’s so much going on there with reciprocal control attempts, “You look at my cell phone, I look at your cell phone” and that sort of thing. And it’s almost like it escalates, then, from that. And so that’s one pattern. But we have to say, based on the findings, that’s not the only one. And so you do have kind a more traditional — where the man is just controlling — and you have the kind where only the female is scoring higher on control, or that subset of people. So I wouldn’t say it’s just one, but that we can’t ignore women’s attempts to control the partner. So I like to say that one of the conclusions would be that men don’t want to so much control the partner (although a subset do), but that they resent those control attempts to some degree. I mean, there are some that are absolutely grateful for the girlfriend, so you have to take them out: “Oh, if it wasn’t for her I would still be using drugs or I would be doing this,” and, “She’s helped me to see that I’m the kind of guy that can really get ahead.” And those are great narratives about a romantic partner effect that’s positive, but at the same time when people try to change you and you’re not quite in the mood yet for change, there’s sometimes what we like to call a “gender maturity gap” that keeps going, where some of these young women now have children. And so if you look at their numbers of nights out with peers, that’s the subgroup. No nights out with peers, right? And so it becomes more — the stakes get a lot higher. And so the idea that they’re just going to sit there and say nothing and somebody is out three nights a week with all of their fun male buddies — it just isn’t realistic to think that she’s not going to have concerns and reflect them to them.

And then, in turn, if you think about it, young men in their adolescence, they had relatively low levels of control, right? In terms of the family. All studies show that young girls have had higher levels of supervision as they were adolescents, and then — compared to boys — and so then boys hit this new relationship with a girl and we have quotes that say, “She’s acting like she’s my mother or something.” You know, that’s overstating it but, “She tells me what to wear, she tells me this and that, who I can go out with.” And so they’re feeling an unfamiliar kind of control that they didn’t even have when they were young kids. So that’s a little bit of the source of the tension as well.

SARMIENTO: That’s exactly what I’ve seen. That’s why I was asking the question, because I hear guys saying all the time, “I just don’t want to be controlled” —


SARMIENTO: — “I don’t want someone to tell me what to do all the time.” And just, the resentment building up and building up —


SARMIENTO: — and then exploding. And so I was just really glad that you picked up on that in the study. Thank you.

GIORDANO: I am so glad to hear you say that. You can’t even imagine, because — you’re in the real world. So I appreciate that.

THOMAS FEUCHT: Well if there are no more questions, I think Peggy will be able to stick around for a few minutes —

GIORDANO: Yeah, so if anybody has any—

FEUCHT: — so if you want to chat with her, ask her any questions, but before you do that, uh, please join me in thanking once again Professor Peggy Giordano.


Date Created: July 17, 2019