Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Other Forms of Intimate Partner Violence - Responsive Violence


Responsive violence is violence used by victims of domestic abuse or other assaults63 who are trying to escape, stand up for themselves, stop the assailant’s violence, defend themselves or others, or retaliate. It is an attempt to gain short-term control in a violent situation.

The choice to respond to an assault with violence is influenced by many factors, including:


Assault (or anticipated assault) by a abuser.

Gender of actors
How does responsive violence differ from abuse?
Consequences to targets

Most abusers are not seriously injured when their victim fights back, though in a small minority of cases, abusers are killed by partners they have abused.

Implications for intervention

Victims who respond with violence – the majority of women arrested for IPV – are often incorrectly identified as abusers.65 This can happen to an abused woman when:

With same-sex couples, police are more likely to arrest both parties. One study found that 26% of female same-sex cases and 27% of male same-sex cases led to dual arrests, while in opposite-sex cases, only 0.8% of those with male offenders and 3% of those with female offenders resulted in dual arrests. Dual arrests can only be avoided if responding officers are careful to accurately determine who the primary aggressor is.

Regardless of the gender of the partners, officers should not take it at face value if either one says it was mutual or just a fight. They should ask the partners, separately, to describe both the current incident and one or more previous ones – including what each one actually did and said, and why. Taking a victim’s claim of responsibility at face value can lead to responses that revictimize her/him – such as arrest or assignment to an abuser program.70

It is important not to confuse responsive violence with abuse. People who abuse their partners often convince themselves and others that their violence is a legitimate response to some provocation by their victim.

Next: Other Forms of Intimate Partner Violence: Fights – Situational Violence

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  1. Responsive violence can occur in a variety of situations. This section only discusses violence that is in response to abuse.
  2. Dasgupta (2001).
  3. Edleson, J. (1998). Responsible mothers and invisible men: Child protection in the case of adult domestic violence, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 13 (2): 294-298.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Crager, M., Cousin, M. & Hardy, T. (April 2003). Victim-defendants: An emerging challenge in responding to domestic violence in Seattle and the King County region. King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  6. See The Myth of Mutual Violence. (LGBT section)
  7. Pattavina, A., Hirschel, D., Buzawa, E., Faggiani, D. & Bentley, H. (2007). Comparison of the police response to heterosexual versus same-sex intimate partner violence (abstract), Violence Against Women, 13(4): 374-394.
  8. In a research context, taking women’s self-reports of abusiveness at face value can lead researchers to overestimate the number of female abusers.