Episodes of domestic violence are often triggered by sexual jealousy and accusations of infidelity, according to researchers who analyzed jailhouse calls between abusers and their victims.
Researchers at Ohio State University listened to the phone conversations between 17 heterosexual couples, in which the man was locked up in a Washington state facility for felony-level domestic violence. The victims had suffered serious injuries during the attacks, including head trauma, bite wounds, strangulation and, in two cases, lost pregnancy, the researchers said.
"What we were looking for was the immediate precursor — what was the one thing that happened right before the violence that was the catalyst," lead author of the study, Julianna Nemeth, said in a statement.
As the study drew from a small sample, further research is likely needed to confirm the results, but Nemeth and her team found that a long-term dispute regarding infidelity pervaded nearly every relationship and was most often the catalyst for violence. "Even if it didn’t trigger the violent event, it was an ongoing stressor in nearly all of the 17 couples we studied," she said.
The researchers also identified drug and alcohol use as a chronic problem in most of the relationships, as well as a factor that turned conversations into violent fights. Moreover, the perception of gender roles seemed to be linked to violence for many of these couples.
"We commonly heard the couples discuss how women are supposed to marry and have children, and how men are supposed to be strong and in control," another Ohio State researcher involved in the study, Amy Bonomi, said in a statement. "Men tended to use these traditional gender role prescriptions to justify their use of violence."
Knowing about these factors might help advocates and health care providers determine how much danger a woman is in.
"A lot of safety plan tools don’t ask specifically about sexual jealousy and infidelity, but it is a question we should be asking," Nemeth said. "If it is an issue that couples are discussing, it is a red flag that the relationship may be volatile."
The study was published in the Journal of Women's Health.