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Violence Against Women

Women's Accounts of Domestic Violence Versus Tactics-Based Outcome Categories Edward W. Gondolf and Angie K. Beeman Violence Against Women 2003 9: 278 DOI: 10.1177/1077801202250072 The online version of this article can be found at:

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VIOLENCE ARTICLE Gondolf, AGAINST Beeman WOMEN / WOMEN’S / March ACCOUNTS 2003 OF 10.1177/1077801202250072 DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Women’s Accounts of Domestic Violence Versus Tactics-Based Outcome Categories EDWARD W. GONDOLF Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute

ANGIE K. BEEMAN University of Connecticut

This study compared battered women’s accounts of violence with tactics-based outcomes to assess the measurement limitations in predicting recurring violence. Accounts of 536 incidents were collected from 299 women at batterer program intake and at 3-month intervals over a 15-month follow-up. Each incident was coded using a sequential, situational model of violence, and the incident codings were summarized for each woman. The components of violent incidents did not correspond to any particular tactics-based outcomes. The female partners of men who repeatedly reassaulted them were, however, less assertive than those of non-reassaulters. A small subgroup did commit unrelenting and excessive violence across the reassault categories. Keywords: accounts of violence; domestic violence measurement; violence prediction; methodology

One of the ongoing issues in domestic violence research is the categorization of abusive incidents. This categorization is especially important to prediction studies of reabuse or reassault among domestic violence perpetrators (see Saunders, 1995, for a summary).1 There are increasing efforts to identify the most dangerous perpetrators, those who are most likely to repeatedly assault their female partners and cause the most harm (e.g., D. Dutton, AUTHORS’ NOTE: The authors wish to thank Robert White for his assistance in developing the coding for violent incidents and Jeff Rowles for his coding and summary of incidents. Both were working as graduate assistants at the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute. The research was supported through grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Grant No. R49/ CCR310525-02), and the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (Grant No. 98-WT-VX-0014). The conclusions do not necessarily represent the official view of the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institute of Justice. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, Vol. 9 No. 3, March 2003 DOI: 10.1177/1077801202250072 © 2003 Sage Publications



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Bodnarchuk, Kropp, Hart, & Ogloff, 1997; Goodman, Dutton, & Bennett, 2000; Hanson & Wallace-Capretta, 2000; Jones & Gondolf, 2001). Unfortunately, research has produced relatively weak predictions of these sorts of perpetrators (D. Dutton & Kropp, 2000; Limandri & Sheridan, 1995). A main limitation in this research is arguably determining what specifically to predict. What categories of abuse or assault outcomes best represent the nature of the violence to be predicted? The prediction research has relied primarily on tactics-based categories of reassault that confound the answer to this key question. Several domestic violence researchers argued that these sorts of categories face a “measurement trap” that misrepresents the nature of domestic violence incidents and hinders research in the field (e.g., Smith, Smith, & Earp, 1999). Women’s accounts of violence suggest a broader conception of incidents (Heckert, Matula, & Gondolf, 2000), whereas the validity studies of tactics-based measures indicate a high association with severity, injury, and quality of life (Straus, 1990). We explored the narrative accounts of domestic violence incidents to identify the need for further categorizations and also to access the extent of any discrepancies between tactics-based and account-based categorizations. For the latter, we compared the accounts of incidents with tactics-based categories derived from the same group of women. PREDICTION RESEARCH

Most prediction research of domestic violence perpetrators has employed dichotomous outcomes of no reassault and reassault during a follow-up period of 6 months to 1 year (e.g., Hilton, Harris, & Rice, 2001; Jones & Gondolf, 2001). These categories have typically used the aggression subscale of the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979) to identify reassault. Anumber of domestic violence researchers have argued for more nuanced and extensive measurement (e.g., Dobash, Dobash, Cavanagh, & Lewis, 1998; Gondolf, 1997a; Saunders, 1995). Some researchers have used index or scale scores that suggest a continuum of severity based on a summation of the items in the Conflict Tactics Scale or a similar abuse scale (e.g., D. Dutton et al., 1997). Others have incorporated scales with additional violence items, controlling behaviors,

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injuries, and quality of life (Dobash, Dobash, Cavanagh, & Lewis, 2000; Gondolf, 2001). Researchers attempting to predict recurring violence among previously violent psychiatric patients have specifically promoted the use of multiple outcomes based on behavioral tactics (Monahan, 1984; Mulvey & Lidz, 1993; Steadman et al., 1994). Rather than reassault versus no reassault, various categories have been recommended, such as no abuse, threats, reassault, and severe reassault. These researchers have argued that such categories are easiest to use in clinical practice and are conceptually more objective or concrete. Even with these improvements, the prediction of continued abuse remains very weak both in terms of variance explained and correct classification (for a review, see Heckert & Gondolf, 2001). The most complex prediction study to date is with a multiple outcome of no abuse (19% of sample), controlling behavior or verbal abuse (26%), threats of violence (20%), one reassault (12%), or repeated reassault (23%) during a 15-month follow-up period to batterer program intake (n = 499) (Heckert & Gondolf, in press). This study categorized the cumulative outcomes based on interviews with the perpetrators’ female partners, using items drawn from the Conflict Tactics Scales and Maltreatment of Women Scale (Tolman, 1989) (for measurement discussion, see Gondolf, 2001). Use of multiple outcomes did improve the prediction of recurring abuse over dichotomous outcomes (any reassault versus no reassault) but not substantially. The optimal equation based on intake information correctly predicted 40% of the any reassault outcomes versus no reassault. The equation for multiple outcomes correctly predicted 58% of the repeated reassault but had an overall correct classification of only 42%. The correct classification rate for repeated reassault is still only 8% better than 50-50 chance. REVISED OUTCOMES

One possible reason for this weak prediction is that the multiple outcomes may not fully or accurately capture the nature and complexity of violent incidents. Other domestic violence researchers have urged consideration of the constellation of abuse (Dobash et al., 2000), the dynamics of abuse (Eisikovits, Winstok,

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& Gelles, 2002), and the sequential process of abusive incidents (M. Dutton, 1999). The underlying assumption is that domestic violence is a contextual process with a development of patterns over time (Dobash et al., 1998; M. Dutton, 1999) rather than a discrete event with “a defined set of behaviors” (M. Dutton, 1999, p. 195). According to impressions of women’s clinical accounts or stories, the context, the sequence or combination of tactics, the tactics’ impact, and strategies of response and resistance are the essential components of a domestic violence event (Cascardi & Vivian, 1995; M. Dutton, 1999; Eisikovits et al., 2002). These components reflect the sequential, situational model of violent incidents promoted in prediction research of violent psychiatric patients (Monahan, 1996; Mulvey & Lidz, 1993; Steadman, 1982). This model assumes that violent incidents generally proceed with contextual issues, precipitant causes, incident dynamics, consequences, and responses to the violence. To explore this possibility of alternative categorizations of violence outcomes, we reviewed and coded the narrative accounts of domestic violence incidents collected as part of the prediction research of multiple-outcome categories mentioned above. We summarize the components of violent incidents proposed in other research and also characterize the cumulative pattern of violence over the follow-up period in case summaries. These incident and case summaries are compared with the tactics-based outcome categories in an effort to identify alternative, additional, or revised outcomes. Are there other ways to categorize the violent outcomes that might more accurately represent the range of incidents? Do the tactics-based categories need to be replaced or simply modified? METHOD SAMPLE

The accounts of violence were obtained through a multisite evaluation of batterer programs in four cities: Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, and Denver (Gondolf, 1997b, 1999). A sample of 210 to 220 men was recruited from each of the four programs for a total of 854 men. These men were the first 20 to 25 men appearing for monthly program intake over a 10-month period in 1995. As part

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of the evaluation, research assistants interviewed the female partners of the men at program intake and every 3 months for a period of 15 months. The interviews were conducted by phone following extensive tracking and safety procedures (Gondolf, 2000). New partners, as well as the initial partners, were interviewed when identified by the men or by the initial partners. New partners were interviewed for 113 of the men (14% of the men with responding partners). A partner was contacted for 561 of the 854 men (68%) for at least 12 months of the full 15-month follow-up period, and 190 of the 584 respondents (33%) reported a physically abusive incident. However, some women may have skipped one of the follow-up intervals or mailed in a written interview during the follow-up. At least one partner was interviewed over the phone at each of the five follow-up intervals (i.e., every 3 months) for 348 men. These cases with complete data were separated into categories based on the extent of physically abusive incidents during the follow-up. These categories were the basis of the multiple outcomes used in our prediction research. A man who did not reassault during the follow-up was classified as a non-reassaulter (n = 145). If the partner described one reassault during the 15-month follow-up period, the man was classified as a one-time reassaulter (n = 85). If a man’s partner described an incident in more than one of the five follow-up intervals, he was classified as a repeat reassaulter (n = 70). The criterion for repeat reassaulters was used because women were asked, under the time constraints of interviewing, to report on only the most severe incident during the 3-month interval. Also, reassault over more than one follow-up period suggests a sustained pattern of reassault. Repeated reassaults reported within one 3-month follow-up interval might indicate a short burst of assaults or incidents linked together.2 DATA COLLECTION

The accounts of abuse were obtained through interviews with women every 3 months for a period of 15 months. During these interviews, the women were asked, “During the past 3 months, did your partner push, grab, slap, hit, or physically attack you in any way?” The interviewers followed with a more specific list of

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physically abusive behaviors (i.e., “Did he pull your hair?” “Burn you?” “Squeeze your neck?”). The women were specifically asked to describe any incidents of sexual abuse and to recall the number of different incidents or separate times of physical abuse that had taken place over the past 3 months. If any type of physical abuse had taken place since the last interview period, the women were asked, “Tell me what happened in the most severe incident?” The women responded in narrative form, describing the circumstances surrounding the incidents, the incidents’ precipitants, the actual abuse, and the actions they and their partner took following the incidents. When needed, interviewers probed the women, asking specifically about circumstances, incidents’ precipitants, and ending responses. There were a total of 536 incident accounts among the 299 women in the final sample. These included reports of the incidents preceding program intake (i.e., one for each of the 299 men) and 237 incidents described during the follow-up for 154 men who were either one-time or repeat reassaulters. The repeat reassaulters had an average of 2.2 incidents during the followup. The length of the transcribed accounts varied. Approximately 50% of the women described the incidents in four- to five-sentence paragraphs, while about 25% offered summaries of approximately one page, and another 25% responded in one or two sentences. The longer the account, the more severe the abuse; however, shorter accounts also were sometimes indicative of severe abuse that women did not feel comfortable disclosing in full detail. INCIDENT CODING

To analyze the women’s accounts of abuse, we developed a coding scheme based on a sequential, situational model of violence. This model reflects the conceptualization of violence as a process related to situations rather than a singular behavioral act (e.g., a punch). It compiles the components put forth by both the domestic violence and psychiatric violence researchers mentioned in the introduction. The model begins with the circumstances and issues of the incident, follows with the interaction and dynamics of the incident, and ends with the man’s or woman’s response to the incident.

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Research assistants first identified the circumstances surrounding the incident. These included the relationship status of the man and woman, background issues (e.g., lack of finances, treatment of children, alleged affairs), place and individuals present, preceding conflict (e.g., an escalating argument, threats, break-in), alcohol and drug use, and the man’s emotional state (e.g., mad, depressed, disoriented, coercive). The assistants also coded the precipitant or immediate cause of the physical abuse (e.g., lack of finances, treatment of children, alleged affairs). Second, the assistants indicated the dynamics of the incident (e.g., man first assaulted woman, man assaults and woman reacts by assaulting man) and the pattern of the incident (e.g., a singular tactic of physical abuse, multiple tactics). Third, the assistants identified the woman’s or man’s response to the physical abuse (e.g., the woman submits or gives in, leaves the residence, calls for help) and any reported injury, property damage, or other consequence. After coding the components, the assistants also rated the overall severity of the incident on a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being extremely severe. The most complex and important coding was of the dynamics of the incident and pattern of the tactics. These aspects are not accounted for in the widely used behavioral inventories, such as the Conflict Tactics Scale, but arguably capture a process that reflects more of the nature and severity of the incident. For example, the dynamic coded as “man assaults/woman reacts/man escalates” describes an incident where the man first assaulted the woman, she reacted in some manner to the assault, and the man escalated his abuse in response to her reaction. Some men, on the other hand, stop their violence after the women react to the initial tactic. An incident is often a combination of assaultive tactics we represented in the pattern of tactics: singular, multiple, chained, series, and multiseparate. The categories were distinguished by the amount of time that passed between the tactics and the relationship of these tactics to each other. For example, a chained incident was one where a short break occurred between the tactics, but the tactics were in succession. The following account details chained tactics: “He grabbed my arm. I pulled away and turned around to get the keys. He spit on me.” These tactics were in succession, but there was a short break between the two acts of physical abuse (i.e., grabbing her arm and

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spitting on her) when the woman pulled away from the man and tried to get her keys. In a series, the break in incidents was longer, and the incidents were not in succession. These incidents, however, were related. The following is an account of a series incident: He got real upset with me over an incident with the dog. He flipped out, screamed, and shouted. An hour or so later, he came into the house to cook and started all over again, yelling and screaming, making threats to kill me. I grabbed the phone and told him that I was calling 911 and started taking the dogs outside. He pushed me as I left.

In this account, there was an hour break between the incidents, and the incidents were related. When the batterer came back to the house an hour later, he “started all over again” and was upset about the same issue as he was previously. The break in physical abuse with multiseparate incidents lasted for hours or days, as with the series; however, the incidents in a multiseparate case were not directly related. The following is an example of such an incident: We were arguing over a phone number I found in his wallet. Jim was very angry, kept me from going to work that day, wouldn’t let me leave. I was afraid of him. He threatened to hurt me if I left. That evening, he pushed, slapped, and pulled my hair. The following morning I got up early and left to file a temporary protective order. The next day, he came to the house and tried to pick a fight with a male friend of mine who was there. I called the cops on him.

In this case, the incidents, which occurred over the period of 2 days, were not directly related. They seemed to start for different reasons and under different circumstances. CASE-LEVEL CODING

A case-level summary coding scheme was developed to summarize the incidents committed by an individual man over time (i.e., the incident prior to program intake and any incidents committed during the follow-up). There were four major components in our scheme, which we categorized as women’s issues, batterers’ problems, incident pattern, and violence type. The first

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two components, women’s issues and batterers’ problems, summarized the issues, precipitants, and circumstances of the incidents. The incident pattern and violence type summarized the dynamics of the incidents, the pattern of tactics, and responses of the men and women. Women’s issues included the degree to which they were submissive, protective of their partners, trying to leave their partners, trying to control the violence, and seeking help. We also described the degree to which women received poor or improper help. Batterers’ problems included the degree to which they abused alcohol or drugs and were manipulative, possessive, angry, and consistently abusive. For each of these components, the research assistants rated their overall impressions on a scale of consistently low, medium, or high. These components could also be rated as decreasing, mixed, increasing, or uncertain. The incident patterns were coded either as consistent, deescalating, improvement and reabuse, or escalating. For example, incident patterns were indicated as deescalating abuse if the physically abusive behavior lessened over the course of the 15month follow-up period. Violence types were coded as unrelenting, severe and unstopped, severe and stopped, less severe, or mixed in severity. “Unrelenting” violence involved batterers who were consistently abusive and who did nothing to curb their abusive behavior. These cases involved severe violence, often continuing past the point of injury, and excessive abusive behaviors, such as constant stalking or harassment. The following account resembles the abuse of an excessive, unrelenting batterer: He had been drinking at a bar, and I walked in. I got up to leave. He followed me out and pushed me on top of someone’s truck. He punched me repeatedly in the face, pulled my hair, ripped my clothes, punched me in the ribs. Then, he walked over to my new truck and scratched both sides up and down with his keys. I ran back into the bar bloody and swollen. He chased after me, but a bouncer stopped him at the door.

Even after the batterer had severely beaten the woman, he still engaged in violent behavior by damaging the woman’s vehicle. The cases of “severe and unstopped” violence and “severe and stopped” violence differed in terms of whether the abuse and violence escalated or was contained. Cases of severe and unstopped

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violence more closely resembled unrelenting violence than did cases of severe and stopped violence. The difference between the severe and unstopped violence and the previous category of unrelenting violence is in the severity and extent of the escalating tactics. The following is an example of severe and unstopped violence: If he came in the house and found me on the phone, he would snatch the phone away from me, throw me up against the wall, and say, “Who in the hell were you talking to.” He would also punch me in the face. I would end up with a busted lip.

In the cases of severe and stopped violence, the incidents tended to be contained. The man appeared to stop or interrupt his violence before causing apparent injury. In these cases, the women often stated that their partners “snapped out of it” or “realized what he was doing” and left the situation. In “less severe” violence the tactics were not as severe (e.g., push, shove, slap), not injurious, generally singular, and the batterer did not stalk or harass the woman. The following is an example: “I and the baby were in the bathroom. He pushed his way in the door and pushed me up against the wall. Nothing else happened.” After the case-level coding, the research assistants also noted their overall impressions of the violence and distinguishing aspects of the cases. To establish intercoder reliability, a second coder was introduced to the coding process. The second coder reviewed and discussed the definitions and examples of the different categories and practiced by coding 10 cases and comparing his or her results to the initial coder. At times during this coding process, it was necessary to add new categories or adjust definitions. The second coder coded another 20 cases, achieving an interrater reliability of greater than .80 on each component. ANALYSIS

The codes were entered into a computerized database for analysis. We first explored the possibility that incident components were associated with a particular pattern of tactics. The objective was to see (a) if the circumstances, issues, and precipitants contributed to a specific pattern of tactics and (b) whether there were distinguishing patterns of violence that might be considered

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outcome categories of their own. The incident-level components were cross-tabulated with pattern of tactics (i.e., singular, multiple, chained, series, or multiseparate) to answer these questions. Next, we considered the research question about the extent of difference between the woman’s accounts and tactics-based categories. The components at both the incident and case levels were sorted by the categories of reassault (i.e., non-reassault, one-time reassault, and repeat reassault). This was done with cross-tabulations for each component and reassault category, inspecting for tendencies across the responses. As an arbitrary guide, we noted items that varied 10% or more across the reassault category or pattern of tactics. Significance levels were technically not appropriate in this instance given the qualitative basis of the data and the absence of true random sampling (Cohen, 1994). The main purpose of the tabulations and crosstabulations was to more systematically sort the descriptive data and substantiate the overall impressions from reviewing the accounts. RESULTS DISTINGUISHING COMPONENTS

The patterns of tactics used in the incidents were primarily singular (33% of the incidents), multiple (30%), and chained (26%). The remaining incidents were classified as series (6%), multiseparate (1%), or with no reported tactics or no certain classification (4%). We therefore focused on the three primary patterns in an effort to identify distinguishing components among the incidents. Overall, the pattern of tactics did not appear to be substantially distinguished by the other components of the physically abusive incidents. The chained incidents, however, were slightly more likely to involve what might be considered exacerbating components, such as not living together, alcohol use as an issue, woman’s assertiveness as a precipitant, man’s drunkenness as the emotional state, escalating dynamics, woman not calling for help, and man leaving after the incident. As indicated in Table 1, incidents characterized by chained tactics, as opposed to singular or multiple, were more likely to have partners not living together (30% chained versus 23% multiple

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TABLE 1 Incident Components by Tactic Pattern (536 Incidents) Tactic Pattern (%) Incident Component Relationship status Living together Not living together Woman left/leaving No contact Background topic/issue Money/finances Child treatment or access Sexual relationship Alcohol or drugs Woman’s assertiveness Woman’s help seeking Separation, leaving, or divorce Woman’s affair Man’s affair Circumstances Place Others present Others assaulted Items thrown Property damaged Arguing escalated Preceding threats Break-in or stalked Incident precipitant/cause Money/finances Child treatment or access Sexual relationship Alcohol or drugs Woman’s assertiveness Woman’s help seeking Separation, leaving, or divorce Woman’s affair Man’s affair Substance abuse Man used alcohol Man intoxicated/drunk Man on drugs or high Woman used alcohol Woman on drugs or high Man’s emotional state Screaming/yelling Rage/flipped out Mad/upset Hostile/mean




Total (%)

39 30 1 0

33 23 2 1

38 20 0 1

38 25 1 0

2 4 2 35 17 1 6 6 2

1 4 2 28 11 1 6 4 3

5 6 3 20 13 1 3 5 4

2 5 2 26 14 1 5 5 4

35 17 3 11 10 16 3 4

41 16 1 5 4 26 2 2

44 14 2 5 3 23 2 1

39 16 2 7 6 21 3 3

2 1 0 14 59 0 1 4 0

0 0 1 11 47 0 0 4 1

1 2 1 13 45 1 1 5 0

1 1 1 13 49 0 1 5 0

18 17 3 8 1

14 13 4 6 1

16 9 1 6 0

15 13 3 7 1

6 6 27 14

7 5 34 13

6 5 40 6

7 6 32 11 (continued)

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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN / March 2003 TABLE 1 (continued) Tactic Pattern (%)

Incident Component Deliberate/cold Sad/depressed/crying Disoriented/confused Jealous/possessive Controlling/coercive Blaming/condemning Dynamics of event Man first assaulter Woman first assaulter Man and woman assault Assaults/reacts/escalates Assaults/reacts/ends Woman’s ending response Capitulation/gives in Aggression/counter Gets him to leave She leaves/escapes Calls for help Man’s action after incident Apology Threats Left




Total (%)

4 0 0 9 23 2

4 1 0 9 20 2

2 0 0 11 20 2

4 1 0 10 21 2

27 4 7 57 4

64 4 3 10 19

60 5 2 6 25

50 5 4 23 16

9 16 4 18 23

4 12 1 18 22

1 11 2 16 38

5 12 2 18 28

4 3 27

5 8 20

1 2 13

3 4 19

and 20% singular) and include alcohol and drugs as a background issue (35% versus 28% and 20%) but were slightly less likely to involve escalating arguments (16% versus 26% and 23%). There was little difference in others being present (range of 14% to 17%) or in preceding threats (2% to 3%). The precipitant was more likely to be the woman’s assertiveness in the incidents of chained tactics (59% versus 47% and 45%). That is, the woman questioned, resisted, or refused the man’s coercive or controlling demands or behavior. There was little variation in alcohol and drugs as a precipitant across the pattern of tactics (11% to 14%) and the man using alcohol at the time of the incident (14% to 18%). However, the man was slightly more likely to be reported as drunk in the incidents of chained tactics (17% versus 13% and 9%). The men also tended to be characterized more often as hostile or mean in incidents of chained (14%) and multiple (13%) tactics than in incidents of singular tactics (6%) and less often as mad or upset in chained tactics (27%) than in multiple (34%) or singular

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(40%) tactics. Coercion and control were similarly evident across the patterns of tactics (20% to 23%). Emotional states described as rage, deliberate, depressed, confused, jealous, or blaming were not frequently identified (0% to 10% of the incidents) and did not substantially vary across the pattern categories. The dynamics of incidents distinguished the patterns of tactics the most. The chained tactics were nearly 6 times as likely as the multiple tactics to be associated with the dynamic of an assault by the man, reaction from the woman, and escalation by the man (57% chained versus 10% multiple and 6% singular). They were also half as likely as the incidents of multiple or singular tactics to be the result of the man initiating the physical abuse with no identified reaction from the woman (27% versus 64% and 60%). Women were reportedly the first to assault in only 5% of the incidents. The women were less likely to call for help after chained and multiple tactics (23% chained and 22% multiple versus 38% singular), and the men were more likely to leave after the chained tactics (27% versus 20% and 13%). The rated severity of the incidents did not substantially vary across the pattern of tactics (19% to 26% for a severity rating of greater than 5). INCIDENTS AND REASSAULT CATEGORIES

The incident accounts did not substantially distinguish the reassault categories. In other words, the men in the repeat reassault category were not more likely to account for the most severe physical abuse against their partners. As indicated in Table 2, they were slightly less likely to not be living with their partner, more likely to be hostile or mean, and less likely to have a partner who called for help. These tendencies are relatively weak, and many other components show no substantial differences across the reassault categories. There was little variation in alcohol use (13% to 18%) and women’s assertiveness as an issue (12% to 16%). The woman’s assertiveness (45% to 52%) and escalating argument (18% to 22%) were not distinguishing precipitants, either. The repeat reassaulters were slightly more likely to be hostile (14% repeat versus 11% one time and 5% no reassault) but were not substantially different in terms of being drunk (15% repeat versus 14%

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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN / March 2003 TABLE 2 Incident Components by Reassault Category (536 Incidents) Reassault Category (%)

Incident Component Relationship status Living together Not living together Woman left/leaving Man’s emotional state Screaming/yelling Rage/flipped out Mad/upset Hostile/mean Deliberate/cold Sad/depressed/crying Disoriented/confused Jealous/possessive Controlling/coercive Blaming/condemning Substance abuse Man used alcohol Man intoxicated/drunk Man on drugs or high Woman used alcohol Woman on drugs or high Woman’s ending response Capitulation/gives in Aggression/counter Gets him to leave She leaves/escapes Calls for help Severity rating (> 5)




Total (%)

34 14 1

35 22 1

42 34 1

52 34 2

7 6 31 14 4 1 0 10 20 2

6 6 30 11 4 0 0 11 21 3

7 5 39 5 3 0 0 7 22 1

7 5 32 11 4 1 0 10 21 2

13 15 3 3 1

15 14 3 9 0

18 10 2 10 1

15 13 3 7 1

8 13 3 19 22 24

4 14 1 17 24 21

0 9 2 16 41 16

4 12 2 18 28 20

NOTE: To save space, not all the incident components of Table 1 are included in Table 2.

one time and 10% no reassault), angry (30% to 39%), jealous (7% to 11%), or coercive (20% to 22%). Escalating dynamics (22% to 24%) and chained tactics (26% to 27%) were not more strongly associated with repeat reassaulters, as expected. There was a tendency toward more severe ratings for incidents committed by the repeat reassaulters, but this tendency was weak (24% repeat versus 21% one time and 16% no reassault, for severity ratings greater than 5). The only notable difference was that women were approximately half as likely to call the police in response to incidents committed by the repeat reassaulters (22% versus 24% and 41%). The repeat reassaulters, however, were no more likely to leave after the event (18% to 21%).

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The case summaries of women’s issues, batterer problems, and the nature of the physical abuse revealed more pronounced differences among the reassault categories. The unassertiveness of the female partners was the most distinguishing component for partners of repeat reassaulters. The men in the repeat reassault category also appeared more domineering and terrorizing. The incidents of the repeat reassaulters tended to be more severe than the preceding incidents of the non-reassaulters and to be consistent or escalating in severity rather than decreasing, but these differences are not as substantial as we expected. As indicated in Table 3, the female partners of the repeat reassaulters were less likely than non-reassaulters to be rated low on the more passive responses of resigned or submissive (56% repeat versus 74% one time and 94% no reassault) and protective of the man (70% versus 69% and 87%); that is, they were more likely to be rated as medium or high on these passive responses. These women were also more likely to be rated low on the more assertive responses of trying to stop or control the violence herself (21% versus 10% and 9%) and seeking help and support (33% versus 20% and 22%). These ratings translate into the partners of the repeat reassaulters being less assertive overall. The men classified as repeat reassaulters, on the other hand, were more possessive or controlling (57% repeat versus 42% one time and 26% no reassault, for high rating) and used more alcohol and drugs (39% versus 31% and 17%, for high rating). The repeat reassaulters were similar to the one-time reassaulters in terms of high ratings for anger or temper (46% and 42% versus 18%), manipulation or deception (24% and 33% versus 10%), and consistently abusive (36% and 32% versus 15%): Both repeat and one-time reassaulters had greater portions rated high on these problems than the nonreassaulters. Table 4 shows that type of violence was less distinct across the reassault categories. A smaller portion of repeat reassaulters were classified as committing less severe violence, but a similar portion were classified as severe and stopped, severe and unstopped, and excessive in their violence (34% repeat, 33% one time, and 32% no reassault). There is a slight tendency toward the repeat reassaulters being excessively violent (9% versus 4% and 2%), but the tendency is insubstantial, especially given the number of cases

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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN / March 2003 TABLE 3 Woman’s and Man’s Issues by Reassault Category (299 Cases) Reassault Category (%)

Incident Summary Woman’s issues Resigned/submissiveness Low Medium High Protective of man Low Medium High Trying to stop or control violence Low Medium High Seeking help and support Low Medium High Man’s issues Possessiveness/control Low Medium High Manipulative/deceptive Low Medium High Anger/temper Low Medium High Decrease Consistently abusive Low Medium High Alcohol/drug abuse Low Medium High




Total (%)

56 10 9

74 4 1

94 6 0

79 6 2

70 21 6

69 18 5

87 10 1

78 15 3

21 23 51

10 29 51

9 51 34

12 38 43

33 26 36

20 27 39

22 46 27

24 36 32

7 19 57

20 31 42

35 23 26

24 24 38

41 27 24

43 23 33

77 11 10

59 18 20

6 33 46 3

6 23 42 21

9 22 18 41

7 25 31 26

29 27 36

17 19 32

54 12 15

38 18 25

40 11 39

49 12 31

50 6 17

47 9 26

NOTE: Ratings of decreased, increased, and mixed were deleted from the table when these categories accounted for less than 10% of the cases.

rated excessive (n = 12). The violence of the repeat reassaulters, however, was more likely to be consistent or escalating than that of the one-time reassaulters (49% versus 21%). The one-time

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TABLE 4 Violence Type and Incident Pattern by Reassault Category (299 Cases) Reassault Category (%) Incident Component Violence type Excessive Severe and unstopped Severe and stopped Less severe Mixed Incident pattern Consistent Decreasing Cycle Escalating




Total (%)

9 16 9 37 30

4 11 18 42 26

2 18 12 63 0

4 15 13 51 14

39 17 31 10

20 29 42 1


29 23 37 5

reassaulters were more likely to show cyclical decreasing patterns of violence. Independent from the above analysis, the research assistants had the impression that reassault categories did not substantially differ in terms of abusive tactics or behaviors. However, they did observe that those who were excessively violent, regardless of reassault category, were more controlling and possessive than those who exhibited less severe violence. These impressions reflect the findings of incident-level coding and confirm that differences in severity across the reassault categories are not that pronounced. It does raise the possibility of a small subgroup of excessively violent men being somewhat distinct. These excessively violent men obviously warrant special attention and further study. As suggested in the example below, there appears to be a level of persistence and threat that makes these men especially dangerous. Mike came bursting through the front door saying he was going to kill me this time for sure. I had no idea what he was talking about or where he had been. He may have been out drinking or something. He went to grab me, and I stepped back. He reached for a lamp on the table next to him and threw it at me as I ran for the door. I made it to the car and locked myself in there. He followed me. When he couldn’t get in the car, he smashed the windshield with a shovel handle. I got out the other side of the car and ran as fast as I could to the neighbors’ house. I screamed that he was coming after me. The neighbors put me in a closet and called the police. I could hear

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Mike pounding on their front door and breaking in. He went through the house to find me, but the police arrived and dragged him off. I was sure that this time it was going to be the end of me.


Our exploration for revised or additional outcome categories exposes the limitations of more conventional tactics-based outcome categories. The women’s accounts of violent incidents did not neatly match the tactics-based categories, but the summary of incidents over time revealed a few tendencies worth noting. The latter may suggest some utility in considering the accumulation of abuse and violence rather than separate incidents to characterize outcomes. In our search for distinct kinds of incidents among the women’s accounts, we did find that the pattern of tactics corresponded somewhat to exacerbating circumstances. Some incidents appeared to follow a situational process that escalated in response to circumstances, but most incidents appeared idiosyncratic as a result of the complexity of circumstances. However, the incident components did not directly correspond to our tactics-based categories. The more severe patterns and dynamics of physically abusive incidents were not more likely to correspond to the repeat reassault category. Moreover, batterer characteristics were not substantially associated with the reassault categories or the incident components, as we have found in our previous studies with this database (Gondolf & White, 2001; Heckert & Gondolf, 2001; Jones & Gondolf, 2001). Summarizing the incidents over the course of time revealed some tendencies in the expected direction. For instance, the repeat reassault category tended to include more men who were identified as possessive and controlling and who were consistent in their violent tactics or in escalating them. However, these men did not stand out to research assistants in their impressionistic case review and may not be clinically significant. There does appear to be a small subgroup of incidents with unrelenting, excessive violence; escalation of violence; and more possessive and controlling behavior that might warrant a subcategory of its own. These

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incidents were notable to the research assistants for their extent and severity. The one notable correspondence between our characterization of the women’s accounts and the tactics-based outcomes is that female partners of men who repeatedly reassaulted appear to be less assertive as a group than those of men who did not reassault. The women with repeat reassaulters may be more fearful of retaliation from consistently abusive and controlling men, as Jacobson and Gottman (1998) suggested in their laboratory study. These women may also be discouraged by the failures of their previous help-seeking efforts and feel their efforts to stop the violence are not worthwhile. As a result, the repeat reassaulters continue their violence unchecked. The first speculation implies that repeat violence is more the result of the batterer’s punishing tactics, and the second suggests more the role of circumstance: He is able to get away with it. In any case, women’s assertiveness appears to warrant more consideration in the effort to distinguish, predict, and contain severe violence. It may show that the tactics-based outcome categories correspond, at least somewhat, to women’s experience. Some researchers have argued that women’s perceptions of and responses to violence are fundamental to understanding domestic violence and need to be more extensively investigated (M. Dutton, 1999; Smith et al., 1999). A broader examination of the relationship dynamics in general, rather than focusing only on incidents, might further distinguish the reassault outcome categories. The women’s assertiveness may reflect the dynamics of the relationship in general. The broader context of nonphysical abuse and daily control or subjection may so entrap or debilitate some women that they are unable to assert themselves. Our findings also raise some implications for practitioners, especially regarding assessment. They reinforce the urging from many battered women’s advocates for more extensive and thorough accounts from battered women. They suggest the importance of developing the rapport and support that enables a woman to tell the details of her story while avoiding retraumatization. A fuller account of violence, as opposed to more basic inventories and categories, is likely to reveal a different picture of severity and danger. This information is important in establishing a woman’s safety and containing a man’s violence

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because the extent and nature of previous violence is such a strong predictor of recurrent violence (Hanson & Wallace-Capretta, 2000). Practitioners also need to increase the identification and response to the men committing unrelenting and excessive violence. So far, it appears difficult to distinguish these men using demographics or behavioral indicators at intake, but the examples in our data call for more decisive protection of the women and containment of the men when such violence does occur. More outreach and support with the partners of such men is especially needed to heighten the intervention, given the tendency for these women to not seek further help. Unfortunately, we found only a small portion of the female partners of the men in our study had any contact with victim services after the first few months of the batterer program (Gondolf, 2002). QUALIFICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH

One criticism this study may face concerns the validity of the women’s accounts of physically abusive incidents. The accounts are obviously the women’s recollections and interpretations of what happened and, therefore, could be affected by self-report bias. Moreover, our coding of incidents could be influenced by variation in the extent of women’s disclosure. The absence of some components may simply mean the failure to mention them. In addition, some men may have been mistakenly categorized as one-time reassaulters or non-reassaulters because women did not feel comfortable disclosing a reassault. Despite coding rules and interrater reliability, the coding of women’s accounts was basically a subjective process with occasional difficulty in determining the appropriate codes. We did use procedures to limit these possibilities, such as periodic follow-up interviews, a “funnel” system of questioning, and validation of women’s reports of a reassault with police records and men’s reports (Gondolf, 2000; Gondolf, Chang, & Laporte, 1999). Future research might incorporate more systematic methods of investigating the components of physically abusive incidents. Although there are some advantages to letting a woman tell her story, an inventory of components would help to produce more consistent and extensive detail. The details might be

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corroborated or expanded with the men’s accounts and those of any other observers. However, this sort of validation needs to be done with caution because it may make a supportive study seem more like an interrogation. CONCLUSION

This study produces only faint support for the tactics-based outcome categories commonly used in prediction research and some further considerations for the development of outcome categories. The slight association between women’s assertiveness and the tactics-based categories may be pointing to the importance of women’s perceptions and responses in characterizing domestic violence. Another consideration is the possibility of a small subcategory of excessive and unrelenting violence that appears to be severely harmful and frightening. Such a subcategory is obviously of the greatest concern for prediction research and not currently captured by conventional tactics-based categories. In sum, our findings overall substantiate the claims of many domestic violence researchers that tactics-based outcome categories may not sufficiently represent recurring abuse and reassault. If prediction research so crucial to intervention is to advance, more complex outcomes need to be identified.

NOTES 1. Predicting the recurring abuse and reassault of a clinical sample is a different and somewhat more difficult task than predicting or identifying risk markers for domestic violence in the general population or among community samples. That the clinical sample is more homogenous and typically has a history of recent violence makes future violence more difficult to predict. 2. The proportion of men in each classification does not correspond directly to the outcomes of all the respondents reported in previous analyses (Gondolf, 1997b; Gondolf & White, 2001) because a portion of the repeatedly reassaulted women left their partners and did not respond for the full 15-month follow-up period. Also, 14 of the men classified as one-time reassaulters reassaulted their partners more than once during a 3-month interval and primarily in successive incidents. Other sample characteristics are summarized in a previous report on the personality profiles of the reassaulters category (Gondolf & White, 2001).

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Edward W. Gondolf, Ed.D., MPH, is associate director of research at the MidAtlantic Addiction Training Institute and professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has authored numerous articles and several books on domestic violence. His most recent books are Assessing Women Battering in Mental Health Services and Batterer Intervention Systems. Angie K. Beeman, M.A., was a graduate research assistant at the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute for 2 years and is currently a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Connecticut. Her master’s thesis examined the nature of interracial relationships in films, and she continues to study social inequality, critical race studies, and Asian acculturation.

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