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Is there gender symmetry in intimate partner violence?


Mary Allen,
School of Applied Social Science,
University College Dublin,
Dublin 4,


‘Gender symmetry’ is one of the most topical and controversial debates in the contemporary domestic violence literature. National survey data, particularly from the USA, has been utilized to support the concept of gender symmetry of violence between intimate partners. Both these statistics and the reliability of the methodologies used to obtain this data have been the focus of fierce criticism in the domestic violence literature. These debates have spread into the general media and now influence social workers' and students' understanding of violence between intimate partners. Recent work, however, has suggested helpful typologies for a better understanding of intimate partner violence (IPV), and research has explored their validity. A comprehensive understanding of the implications of these debates is important for safe social work interventions as assessments and interventions must be based on an accurate understanding of the aetiology, dynamics and consequences of violence between intimate partners. It is important that practitioners are aware of the background to and complexity of these debates and the ongoing work on typologies of violence, as such understanding will enhance assessments and thereby ensure more appropriate social work interventions. This paper traces the debates and outlines the new developments, which can enhance assessments and understanding of IPV.