The differential effects of intimate terrorism and situational couple violence on mental health outcomes among abused Chinese women: A mixed-method study

Agnes Tiwari, Ko Ling Chan, Denise Shuk Ting Cheung, Daniel Yee Tak Fong, Elsie Chau Wai Yan, Debbie Hoi Ming Tang

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Distinctions have been made between the two main forms of intimate partner violence: intimate terrorism (IT) and situational couple violence (SCV), depending on whether the violence is part of a general pattern of control. Differential effects also exist between IT and SCV. However, the IT/SCV distinction and their differential effects have yet to be demonstrated in violent intimate relationships in China. We aimed to identify IT and SCV among Chinese women who reported partner violence in Hong Kong and to differentiate the effects of IT and SCV on their mental health outcomes. Methods: A mixed-method design was used in a cross-sectional study to collect quantitative and qualitative data from women 18 years of age or older who had been victims of intimate partner violence in the past year. Six hundred and thirteen women were recruited from 18 districts in Hong Kong. Quantitative instruments were administered to assess intimate partner violence, control by an intimate partner, and mental health outcomes. Individual face-to-face interviews were conducted with 200 of the women to capture their experiences of intimate partner violence and the context in which it occurred. Results: Of the 613 women, 215 (35.1%) were identified as victims of IT and 324 (52.9%) as victims of SCV. Compared to SCV victims, IT victims reported significantly more violence-related physical injury (p∈<∈0.001), higher use of medical services (p∈<∈0.001), and more symptoms of depression (p∈<∈0.001) and posttraumatic stress disorder (p∈<∈0.001). The interviews revealed two broadly different pictures with IT victims describing their relationship problems as serious and life-threatening, and physical violence was part of the controlling behaviors used by their partners. Such details were not reported by those in the SCV group. Conclusion: Our findings indicate that violence in intimate relationships in China is not a unitary phenomenon, and it has at least two forms, IT and SCV, which were shown to have differential effects on Chinese women. The findings regarding the IT/SCV distinction and their differential effects on mental health outcomes have implications for policy, research and practice. Trial registration: Trial registration: NCT01206192.

Original languageEnglish
Article number314
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Dec 12

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the Research Grant Council for granting the General Research Fund (Project Number 753510). In addition, we are grateful to the Family and Child Protective Services Units (FCPSUs) under the Social Welfare Department of the HKSAR Government for assisting recruitment of participants, to Mrs. Helena Yuk for allowing us to conduct surveys at the HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre, to Dr. Patsy Chau for giving us advice on statistics, to Gloria Lam and Kallie Law for collecting and analyzing the data, to Ruby Lo of Policy 21 for her helpful statistical assistance, and to all the women who took part in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Tiwari et al.; licensee BioMed Central.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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