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The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project
Manuscripts and Online Data Base
Overview of Findings by the Authors

#6: Partner Abuse in Ethnic Minority and LGBT Populations

Carolyn M. West, Ph.D.
76 pages. Full manuscript available in Partner Abuse Vol. 3, Issue no. 3 (2012), pp. 336-357

In the second decade of the 21st century, a growing percentage of the U.S. population has self-identified as Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, Asian American, or American Indian/Alaska Native. In addition, there is a growing recognition of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) citizens and their relationships. Consequently, it is imperative that researchers continue to investigate the differences in the incidence and prevalence of IPV based on racial/ethnic background and sexual orientation of victims and perpetrators. Accordingly, the goal of this review is to 1) synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding gender differences in rates of physical and psychological IPV prevalence among the four largest ethnic/racial groups; 2) compare rates of physical and psychological IPV between sexual minorities and heterosexuals and among subgroups of sexual minorities (gay men, lesbians, bisexuals); 3) summarize correlates and risk factors that are associated with rates of IPV in both ethnic and sexual minorities.

Studies that were published after 1975, appeared in peer-review journals, and met the following criteria are included in this review:  (1) present empirical data with statistical analyses regarding the prevalence of physical IPV and/or psychological aggression/control among African, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans and LGBT populations; and (2) assessed and compared rates of both male-perpetrated and female- perpetrated IPV.  Exclusion criteria included studies that examined gender differences between ethnic groups (e.g., only comparing rates of IPV between White and Black women or Hispanic and Black men).    

A systematic search of the published literature was carried out using a variety of search engines including PubMed, PsycINFO, and Academic Search Complete. The review identified 55 studies that met the criteria (257 fell under the topic and were considered, but were determined to not meet criteria for inclusion). Included in the summary tables is the full reference for the study (author, year, title, journal information), the sample size, characteristics of the sample (e.g., sociodemographic information, age), study method and design, measures used, and results (gender differences in prevalence rates and correlates/risk factors). Most of the articles focused on African Americans, Hispanics, and sexual minorities.

Among African Americans, in earlier national studies researchers discovered higher rates of male perpetrated violence compared to violence perpetrated by females. In more recent surveys, psychological aggression was most frequently reported, followed by mutual physical IPV. Unidirectional female-to-male partner violence (FMPV) was significantly higher than male-to-female partner violence (MFPV). Regardless of gender, Black couples most often inflicted and sustained minor or moderate aggression, such as throwing objects, pushing, grabbing, and shoving. Overall, there were no gender differences in rates of psychological and physical victimization among Black undergraduates; however, women tended to inflict more dating violence than men.

Among Hispanic Americans, in general population studies psychological aggression was most frequently reported, followed by mutual physical aggression.  The overall rates of MFPV and FMPV and psychological aggression were comparable, and physical aggression primarily took the form of minor aggression. Physical victimization and perpetration, severe acts of physical aggression, and psychological aggression did not vary based on gender in a Hispanic college sample. Female migrant farm workers reported more IPV than their male counterparts, non-migratory farm workers and Mexican American community members.  

Only one general population study in this sample focused on Asian Americans. Reciprocal violence, which accounted for one-third of the aggression, was most frequently reported and comparable rates of women and men reported minor physical victimization and perpetration. Vietnamese women and men reported the lowest rates of IPV. In contrast, a community sample found higher rates of IPV among Vietnamese women and men. However, overall, lifetime and past year rates of victimization did not vary by gender in community or college samples.

Three community samples focused on IPV among American Indians. Using a one-item measure of IPV, researchers discovered very low, nonsignificant rates of victimization. In a larger sample of six Native American tribes, women reported higher rates than men, almost one-half vs. one-third, respectively. In addition, another sample found that more Native American women required medical attention due to their injuries and were more likely to use weapons in self-defense against an abusive partner. My second objective of this review was to compare rates of physical and psychological IPV between sexual minorities and heterosexuals and among subgroups of sexual minorities (gay men, lesbians, bisexual men and women). In most cases, respondents who reported a history of same-sex cohabitation and those who identified as sexual minorities reported higher rates of IPV than those who reported only a history of opposite-sex cohabitation and those who identified as heterosexual. Regarding sexual minority subgroup differences, the findings were inconsistent. Some studies found no significant differences across sexual orientation, while another study found that lesbians experienced higher rates of IPV than gay men. Bisexuals also appear to be at risk for IPV and rates of victimization among transgendered populations has largely been unexamined in the literature.

The final objective of this review was to identify correlates and risk factors of IPV among ethnic and sexual minorities. Substance abuse and use, marginalized socioeconomic status in the form of family and neighborhood poverty, exposure to violence during childhood as a witness or victim of violence in the family of origin are all factors that have been consistently linked to elevated rates of intimate partner assaults. Associations also have been found between level of acculturation and minority stress in the form of internalized homophobia and frequency of discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, the complex association among these variables is less clear across racial groups and sexual orientation.

These findings should be understood in the context of some limitations. First, most of the studies in this review focused on African Americans and Hispanics, while the research on Asian Americans and Native Americans remain sparse. Second, prevalence rates and correlates/ risk factors of IPV were primarily based on two general population surveys. Although these studies were methodologically strong, the typical respondents were married individual and couples in their mid-40s, populations that are generally at lower risk of IPV.  Third, the majority of the studies used the Conflict Tactics Scales. Therefore, there was limited information about frequency of aggression. Moreover, this review did not include prevalence of sexual aggression. Finally, the studies on sexual minorities should be interpreted with extreme caution. Several of the studies used non-standardized measures and there was not consistent definition of sexual orientation used across studies. These are methodological limitations that make it difficult to draw firm conclusions.