Family Structure And Women’s Experiences Of Intimate Partner Violence

Angelina Kathleen Ruffin, University of Pennsylvania


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a pervasive problem. The WHO estimates that 30% of women worldwide who have been in a relationship report having experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. IPV can result in negative sexual, perinatal, physical, mental health, and economic consequences. Most studies on IPV explore risk by looking solely at the relationship between the assailant and the victim – specifically, the occurrence of IPV in married, cohabiting, and dating couples – but do not assess how family structure (polygynous marriage, unions with children, and extended family members in the home) may influence these experiences. Family structures vary across societies, and not all family forms are equally available to all people. Polygyny, for example, when one man has two or more wives, is officially practiced in over eight hundred societies worldwide. However, there is a paucity of research looking at how marital types (i.e., polygyny) relates to IPV. This multi-paper, multi-cite, and mixed-methods dissertation focuses on this gap in the literature. In Paper 1, I conduct a systematic review of prevalence studies that report IPV rates by various relationship and family structures. Findings from this review of 20 studies suggest 1) an association exists between Relationship Status and IPV, 2) there is not evidence of an association between Marriage Type and IPV, and 3) there is inconsistent support for a relationship between Family Structure and IPV. Paper 2 is a secondary data analysis of Ghana’s 2008 Demographic Health Survey exploring married women’s experiences with IPV. Polygyny was not found to be a significant predictor of IPV. Paper 3 is a qualitative study with Black Muslim women that seeks to understand their lived experiences with IPV and polygyny. Through phenomenological thematic analysis of 12 interview transcripts, I capture the essence of their experiences. Participants did not believe polygyny to be inherently more abusive than monogamy. Misconceptions surround polygyny, and this body of work aims to increase cultural competency in conversations about relationship and family types, and IPV.