Why Do Women Use Intimate Partner Violence? A Systematic Review of Women's Motivations

Megan Hayes Bair-Merritt, Sarah K S Crowne, Darcy A. Thompson, Erica Sibinga, Maria Trent, Jacquelyn Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Studies report that women use as much or more physical intimate partner violence (IPV) as men. Most of these studies measure IPV by counting the number of IPV acts over a specified time period, but counting acts captures only one aspect of this complex phenomenon. To inform interventions, women's motivations for using IPV must be understood. A systematic review, therefore, was conducted to summarize evidence regarding women's motivations for the use of physical IPV in heterosexual relationships. Four published literature databases were searched, and articles that met inclusion criteria were abstracted. This was supplemented with a bibliography search and expert consultation. Eligible studies included English-language publications that directly investigated heterosexual women's motivations for perpetrating nonlethal, physical IPV. Of the 144 potentially eligible articles, 23 met inclusion criteria. Over two thirds of studies enrolled participants from IPV shelters, courts, or batterers' treatment programs. Women's motivations were primarily assessed through interviews or administration of an author-created questionnaire. Anger and not being able to get a partner's attention were pervasive themes. Self-defense and retaliation also were commonly cited motivations, but distinguishing the two was difficult in some studies. Control was mentioned but not listed as a primary motivation. IPV prevention and treatment programs should explore ways to effectively address women's relationship concerns and ability to manage anger and should recognize that women commonly use IPV in response to their partner's violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-189
Number of pages12
JournalTrauma, Violence, and Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • anything related to domestic violence
  • battered women
  • batterers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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