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Theories of Intimate Partner Violence: From Blaming the Victim to Acting Against InjusticeIntersectionality as an Analytic Framework

Kelly, Ursula A. PhD, MSN, ANP-BC, PMHNP-BC

doi: 10.1097/ANS.0b013e3182272388
Original Articles

Intimate partner violence (IPV) has garnered increasing public and academic attention in the past several decades. Theories about the causes, prevention, and intervention for IPV have developed in complexity. This article provides an overview of the historical roots of IPV, as well as a description and critique of historical and contemporary theories of IPV causes and women's responses to IPV. This is followed by a discussion of the most current theoretical developments and application of critical theories to the problem of IPV. The article concludes with theoretically based implications for nursing practice and research with women who are experiencing IPV.

In the past four decades, intimate partner violence (IPV), previously considered a private matter between two adults, has become recognized as a complex socio-cultural problem and public health epidemic. Scholarly attention to IPV has led to significant theory development related to the causes of and women's responses to IPV. This article provides a critique of historical and contemporary IPV theories. Critical analyses of the relationship of intersecting social inequities and oppressive structures to IPV and violence against women are discussed. Intersectionality is proposed as a theoretical basis for nursing research and clinical practice with women who experience IPV and as a mandate for social action. Specific nursing interventions and action are suggested.

Atlanta VA Medical Center, Atlanta, Georgia; Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Atlanta, Georgia.

Correspondence: Ursula A. Kelly, PhD, MSN, ANP-BC, PMHNP-BC, Emory University, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing 1520 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30322 (

This paper is a revision of a previously published book chapter; copyright permission obtained.

Kelly UA, Gonzalez-Guarda RM, Taylor JY. Theories of intimate partner violence. In: Humphreys J, Campbell JC, eds. Family Violence and Nursing Practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co; 2011:51–89.

The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.