Male and Female Perpetrated Partner
Testing a Diathesis-Stress Model
A dissertation presented to the University of Manitoba in fulfillment of
the dissertation requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the
Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program
(c) Reena Sommer, 1994
I hereby declare that I am the sole author of this dissertation. I
authorize the University of Manitoba to lend this dissertation to other
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Since the mid 1970's, the literature has seen a proliferation of research
conducted in the area of family violence. The publication of the results
of Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz's (1980) national U.S. survey on family
violence, has largely been responsible for raising our awareness
concerning the pervasiveness of this social problem.
In spite of this abundance of recent research, there is still a lack
of longitudinal research on this topic in general population samples.
In addition, previous studies conducted in the general population
have primarily focused on the environmental influences on partner abuse.
Studies investigating individual differences as potential partner abuse
risk factors have been for the most part restricted to research on
As part of the Winnipeg Health and Drinking Survey (a longitudinal survey
of adult Winnipeg residents) (Barnes & Murray, 1989), data were gathered
on spouse abuse. This thesis examines the pattern of male and female
perpetrated partner abuse and its associated risk factors. The data of
married, cohabiting and remarried males and females between the ages of 18
and 65 years collected at two points in time over two years, provided the
basis for this study's analyses. In both phases of the research,
respondents participated in a 90 minute session involving a structured
interview and a self administered questionnaire.
In addition to the socio-demographic data and multiple indices of alcohol
and personality measures collected during Wave 1 of the data collection,
Wave 2 data included measures of stress, violence in the family of origin
and contextual issues surrounding the perpetration of partner abuse (i.e.,
drinking at the time of an abuse episode, injuries inflicted on a partner,
and abuse perpetrated in self defence). The dependent measure
investigated in both waves of this study was based on six items drawn from
the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979).
This research was guided by a diathesis-stress model of partner abuse. In
this model, the importance of underlying variables such as personality
characteristics and violence in the family of origin, and situational
variables such as stress and alcohol in predicting partner abuse were
examined. In the logistic regression analyses predicting the incidence of
partner abuse in the year prior to the follow-up interview, the following
significant predictors emerged for males:
being young in age,
perpetrating past partner abuse,
observing father hitting mother,
experiencing high stress,
the interaction between stress and past perpetrated partner abuse and
the interaction between stress and age.
For females, the significant predictors were:
having a high score on the EPQP,
having a high score on the Neuroticism Index ,
observing mother hitting father,
not observing parents' mutual violence,
the interaction between alcohol and neuroticism,
the interaction between alcohol and observing mother hitting father,
the interaction between alcohol and past perpetrated partner abuse.
The major contribution of this research to the literature on family
violence rests in its demonstration that the experience of perpetrated
partner abuse at a given point in time as well as across time, is
different for males and females. This and other findings challenge
researchers to find ways of preventing partner abuse before it begins.
Early identification of individuals at risk for partner abuse may be
critical to providing effective intervention. Once accomplished, the
means to break the cycle of violence could be at hand.
The completion of this dissertation represents more than just a
demonstration of competence as a researcher. Rather, the process involved
in its formulation and writing has provided me with an opportunity for
both personal growth and development. Beyond acquiring the skills needed
to conduct research independently, I have also gained much insight into my
potential as a person. For me, the key to success has been twofold; the
desire to accomplish something, and the belief that it can be done. The
latter however, could not have been possible without the support of those
who have been close to me. For that reason, there are a number of persons
to whom I would like to express my gratitude.
I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a dissertation
committee as dedicated as the one that guided this research. As a group,
they provided a model for effective research direction through cooperation
and placing the needs of a student ahead of others. They are to be
thanked for never settling for anything less than what they believed I was
fully capable of. I am honoured to have been associated with such a
wonderful group of professionals.
As individuals, each has left an indelible mark on my life that will not
be forgotten. Dr. Gordon Barnes has served as my research advisor across
two degrees. His expert direction, experience and knowledge have
contributed to my development as a researcher. He is a mentor in the
truest sense. Dr. Carol Harvey has also been a member of my thesis
committee across two degrees. Her optimism and sensitivity toward others
have never compromised the high standards she sets for herself, her
students and faculty. Dr. Shiva Halli through his endless patience and
encouragement has demonstrated that the process of data analysis need not
be impossible. Finally, Dr. Neil Malamuth, my external examiner
contributed considerable insight into the research conducted, and provided
me with a number of thought provoking challenges.
My friends in the Family Studies Graduate Program have been, and still
remain a source of support and friendship to me. I have been very
fortunate to have been associated with a group of such bright and
articulate women. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr.
David Patton, Ken Kramer and Lou-Ellen Armstrong with the data analyses as
well as the help of Leonie Stranc who was my Word Perfect editor
I would like to thank those who are closest to me; my family. Throughout
my graduate student years they have shared the highs and the lows; my
successes as well as my disappointments and frustrations. Yet, in spite
of the often tumultuous times, they have all been a source of support and
comfort. My husband, Michael has borne the brunt of much of my
frustration, and for his unwavering belief in my ability, I am forever
Finally, I would like to dedicate this research to one very special little
girl; my daughter, Leah Rachael Sommer Thomas. Since the moment of her
conception, she has had to share her Mommy with this very demanding piece
of work. For all the times, you had to wait "just another moment until I
jot this down", I thank you Leah; for all your understanding, your
patience and most of all, for your love. Without your cooperation, the
completion of this research could not have been accomplished as
expeditiously nor as effectively as it has.