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01 July 2022

More than 1 in 10 Armed Forces personnel have experienced Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse

New research from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) at King’s College London has found that Armed Forces personnel are significantly more likely to both experience and perpetrate intimate partner violence and abuse (IPVA) than the wider civilian population.

Army helmets

The research, published today in Lancet Regional Health – Europe, is the first of its kind looking into IPVA in UK Armed Forces personnel, and found that both men and women with military experience were over three times more likely to report IPVA perpetration and almost three times more likely to report IPVA experience than those in the civilian population. The researchers say this reinforces the need for a specialised Domestic Abuse Strategy that takes into account the military specific drivers of IPVA.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines IPVA as incorporating four separate types of abuse; emotional (e.g. belittling, humiliating), psychological (e.g. threatening behaviour, verbal aggression), physical violence, or sexual violence.

This study assessed the IPVA experiences of 5,557 UK military personnel who reported having an intimate partner within the last year. 90% (4,865) of respondents were male, and 65% (3,612) were from the Army. Across the sexes, experiences of IPVA were similar, with 13% of men and 11% of women saying that they had experienced some form of violence or abuse from their partner and 10% of men vs 7% women reported having perpetrated IPVA. The researchers identified high levels of bidirectional IPVA with almost 50% of military personnel who reported perpetrating IPVA also experiencing some form of abuse.

Male participants reported a higher likelihood of perpetrating emotional and psychological abuse, as well as controlling behaviour, than female participants, while both males and females were just as likely to report perpetrating severe physical abuses such as kicking, biting, and hitting.

Male respondents were also more likely to report experiencing severe forms of physical abuse, such as being kicked, bitten, or hit, while female respondents reported a higher prevalence of fear and threats.

“The present research provides robust evidence of high prevalence of both IPVA perpetration and IPVA experience among military personnel. It further confirms that, similar to international military populations, male experience of IPVA and bidirectional IPVA are prevalent."

Dr Deirdre MacManus, a Clinical Reader in Forensic Psychiatry and the study’s first author from KCMHR

Dr Deirdre MacManus, a Clinical Reader in Forensic Psychiatry and the study’s first author from KCMHR said, “These findings warrant further exploration of what male experience of IPVA looks like in terms of frequency and impact, and consideration of the effect of bidirectional abuse within relationships both on the partners involved and others in the household who may be exposed, particularly children.”

The authors argue that the persistently higher prevalence of IPVA experience and perpetration in the Army requires further attention, and suggest it warrants the need for a Domestic Abuse Strategy that accounts for the driving forces behind IPVA specifically in military communities. Relationship dissatisfaction, exposure to military trauma and common mental disorders and alcohol misuse, were found to be strongly associated with both IPVA perpetration and experience, and are likely key drivers of the differences in prevalence rates between the military and civilian samples in this study.

Dr MacManus concludes, “These findings provide critical information on drivers of IPVA in military populations and will support the development of effective IPVA prevention interventions for this population in the UK. They underline the role that mental health services can and should play in the prevention, identification and management of IPVA in military communities. Together, the findings from this study will support the further refinement of the UK Government military specific Domestic Abuse Strategy to ensure tailored support for military communities in the UK.” 

This story was funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and the National Institute of Health Research.


Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse Experience and Perpetration in UK Military Personnel Compared to a General Population Cohort : A Cross-Sectional Study (DOI ) (Dr Deirdre MacManus, Dr Roxanna Short, Rebecca Lane, Margaret Jones, Lisa Hull, Prof Louise M Howard, Prof Nicola T Fear)

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In this story

Nicola Fear

Professor of Epidemiology

Professor Emerita Louise Howard

Emeritus Professor, Women's Mental Health