Domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) are concepts we hear and refer to, but often do not understand fully. To begin with, there are many different types and reasons for domestic violence or intimate partner violence. We first have to define what type of DV or IPV has occurred, before we can talk about remedies and/or treatment. Several theoretical categories, based on solid research, can help us understand just how different these types are. Two are presented here. In one conceptual framework, DV is broken down to three basic types, each having its own corresponding risk levels (AFCC workshop summary, 2013): The first two types of domestic violence are fairly “gender equal,” meaning as many women as men are involved, and often both parties are equally involved. The third level is the one of highest risk, and males are typically the perpetrator

The first type of domestic violence involves both parties escalating often into verbal fighting, which sometimes becomes physical. If one party is primary, research shows that both genders are equally represented statistically. Neither party is really afraid of the other. The second type of DV is called “episodic assault,” when couples regularly get into physical fights. Again, this is gender equal; neither is afraid of the other; and they usually feel better after the fight. The third type of DV is called “coercive control,” and the man is more often the perpetrator. This is about power and control, where physical violence is only one tool in the tool kit for control, so to speak. While the first level is low risk, the second level is higher risk, especially if substance abuse is involved and there are children around. The third level is extremely high risk, and is the type of DV that is being characterized in movies such as “Enough,” “The Burning Bed” and “Sleeping With the Enemy.” It is the form of DV that contains the dynamics of the “battered wife syndrome.” Unfortunately, many professionals and shelters are assuming that all DV is in this category, when statistically, this category is less frequently the type of abuse, but causes the most damage.

Another model of assessing domestic violence creates an integrated framework for standardized analysis. It includes the new information that coercive control, now substituted for the older term “battering,” includes patterns of psychological behavior that may or may not include any physical abuse. The effects of coercion, isolation, dominance, bullying and intrusiveness into the partner’s life are often more debilitating than physical violence.

In this model, five subtypes are proposed:

    • Coercive Controlling, Intrusive, Authoritarian Violence (CCIA): Where high levels of control issues and intrusiveness are primary patterns, and replaces understanding of what we used to call battering. While both males and females can perpetrate this type of violence, it is more often the male who is the perpetrator, as the issue is control over another’s life, and issues of “gender elite privilege,” belonging to males in society, are also primary.

    • Conflict Instigated Situation Specific Violence (CISS): This is the most common form of violence, instigated equally by both males and females.  However, in each situation, either a male or female may be the primary instigator; the other may or may not participate in the violence. The level of severity is often minor, but also can be quite severe.

    • Separation Associated Violence (SA): This is a subtype of CISS and occurs at the time of intense conflict and separation. Forensic evaluators often encounter this type of violence. The time of separation is recognized as the most dangerous time for female partners. In addition, we know that once the parenting plan has been finalized and a new custody/visitation situation occurs, the family is also in one of the most dangerous periods for violence.

    • Substance Abuse-Associated Violence (SAA): Substance abuse, including alcohol, is a major risk factor for violence and IPV.

    • Major Mental Disorder Associated (MMDA): In risk assessment analysis for prediction of violent behavior, there are correlations among various mental illnesses and an increased risk of DV. Combined with a history of past violence, major mental disorders create high risk for future violence.

They also developed a “severity index,” which determines not only what type of DV or IPV has occurred, but what the severity of the DV is. They begin with a determination of how often the violence occurred, what exactly occurred, and how “active and potent” the behaviors and attitudes are. In short, if the behaviors are very old and relatively insignificant, little relevance to current situations, including custody and potential future violence to the partner, is given. However, if the behaviors were serious, including life-threatening, violence in the presence of children, continued obsessive intrusive behaviors, such as stalking and threatening, or using the children to continue harassment and control over the partner, the issues pose considerable ongoing threat and need to be considered for mitigation.  In addition, 10 behaviors should also be considered: exposure of children to violence; degree of present threat factors; substance and alcohol use; major mental disorder; severity and patterns of past abuse; severity and patterns of past psychological abuse; associated issues and conditions; recency: ongoing now or long in the past; patterns of instigation; and degree of coercive control involved.  We also know that, where IPV has occurred, there is a 30 percent to 60 percent higher risk of DV towards children.

Dr. Susannah Smith is a licensed practicing clinical and forensic psychologist and organizational development consultant with offices in Telluride and Ridgway.  She can be reached at or 970-728-5234.