Studies were included in the current review if they met three broad inclusion criteria. First, they needed to present empirical data regarding the prevalence of physical IPV from the perspective of the victim (see Part 2 for perpetration rates). Second, the IPV must have occurred within the context of a heterosexual intimate relationship. Third, articles were excluded if they reported the findings of studies in which participants were sampled from an identified population of IPV victims, such as women staying at a domestic violence shelter. Literature searches undertaken in three databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Science) followed by screening of titles and abstracts, as well as elimination of replicates, led to retrieval of 750 articles published between 2000 and 2010 for further analysis. Data were extracted regarding measurement timeframe and instrument, and sample details. Results then were summarized by study and grouped according to sample type: population-based, community, university or college, middle or high school, clinical, and justice or legal samples. Unweighted prevalence estimates were calculated for female and male victimization overall and by sample type, country, measurement timeframe, and measurement approach, to the extent possible.
Our final sample included 249 articles that reported 543 rates of physical IPV victimization in our review: 158 articles reported 318 rates for women, six articles reported eight rates for men, and 85 articles reported 217 rates for both men and women. There were 52 population-based studies, 36 studies of community samples, 26 studies of university or college samples, 38 studies of middle or high school students, three studies of high school and university students, 80 studies of clinical samples, and 14 studies of justice or legal samples. The majority of articles (85.5%, k = 213) reported findings of studies conducted in the U.S. Sample sizes ranged widely from N = 42 to N = 134,955, with a mean of 4,308.24 (SD = 14,912.49), median of 791, and mode of 120 participants per study. Studies varied in their operational definition and measurement of IPV, though a majority (47.4%, k = 118) of studies reported prevalence rates measured using items or scales drawn from the Conflict Tactic Scale family of instruments.
Overall, results indicated that physical IPV victimization is prominent among men and women in heterosexual relationships. Across all studies included in this review, approximately one in four women (23.1%) and one in five men (19.3%) experienced physical violence in an intimate relationship, with an overall pooled prevalence estimate of 22.4%. However, for both men and women, prevalence rates ranged widely from 0% to 99%. Physical IPV victimization was reported by approximately one-third (33.6%) of individuals in their lifetime and one-fifth (19.2%) of individuals in the year prior to the study.
Whether prevalence estimates were higher for male or female physical IPV victimization fluctuated as a function of sample type, measurement timeframe, and study location. For example, in large population studies, studies of community samples, university or college samples, and clinical samples, pooled prevalence was higher among women than men, but across studies of middle or high school students and justice or legal samples, pooled prevalence was higher among men than women (though only one study examined male victimization in a justice or legal sample). Lifetime rates generally were higher among women than men, whereas past year prevalence was slightly higher among men than women. We also found differences by country. For instance, in studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada, pooled prevalence was higher among women than men whereas in studies conducted in the U.K., New Zealand, and South Africa, pooled prevalence rates were higher among men than women. Taken together, results add to a growing body of literature documenting symmetry in rates of IPV among men and women.
This comprehensive review of the current state of the field demonstrates the diversity of victims who experience physical IPV and documents the need for gender-inclusive responsiveness to this wide-ranging public health problem. In particular, there are currently few services for male victims and the high rates of violence experienced by women and men suggests a need for treatment and intervention strategies for victims of both sexes. Additionally, the high rates of physical IPV victimization among middle or high school students (or other similar age youth), as well as among university and college students, highlights the need for school-based IPV prevention and intervention efforts.
Instead of victim sex, the methodological differences across studies may be the most important sources of variability affecting estimates of prevalence. Though many studies used standardized assessment instruments, a considerable proportion used other, unvalidated approaches. Researchers also differed in whether sexual violence was included in their definition of IPV. Finally, many studies reported lifetime and past year prevalence rates, while others combined rates of current or past year victimization, or used different timeframes altogether. Thus, future research efforts need to be directed at standardizing the measurement of IPV so that data can be compared across studies, sample types and countries.