Aggression in British Heterosexual Relationships  (pdf)

Michelle Carrado, M.J. George, Elizabeth Loxam, L. Jones and Dale Templar

Market and Opinion Research International Ltd. (M.C., L.J.) Department of Physiology, Saint Bartholomew’s and Royal London Medical School, Queen Mary & Westfield College, London University, (M.J.g,), and The British Broadcasting Corporation (E.L., D.T.), London, United Kingdom.


1. Forward and Introduction

2. Materials and Methods

  • Items of Physical Victimization

  • Items for Reason and Context

3. Results

4. Discussion& References


A 12-item scale, derived from the Conflict Tactics Scale, was administered to a representative sample of 1,978 heterosexual men and women in Great Britain in mid November 1994. Men and women were asked to identify conflict tactics sustained or inflicted in all past and present relationships and those sustained in current relationships. This paper reports results for physical victimization and also reports on two further questions asked to discern context and meaning ascribed to such sustained or inflicted victimization. Both sexes reported having experienced physical victimization with a higher percentage of men sustaining victimization, mainly as a result of minor acts of assault. Almost equal percentages of men and women reported inflicting victimization against partners. Additionally, incidence of physical victimization is presented according to relationship status, age, socioeconomic category and by regional distribution. Both sexes reported a range of reasons or contexts ascribed to their sustained or inflicted victimization.


In North America and Canada, aggression within intimate relationships has been investigated by researchers using a variety of methodologies [Straus, 1993]. One technique has been to administer the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) developed by Straus [1979], to samples including large national population samples [for reviews of such studies see Straus and Gelles, 1986; Straus 1993; Straus and Kantor, 1994]. By contrast, in Britain research on violence in relationships has focused almost exclusively on studies of battered women [Smith, 1989], community samples of women [Andrews and Brown, 1988], or on the nature of police or agency recognition and response to domestic violence [e.g., see Borowski et al., 1983; Edwards, 1988; Bourlet, 1990]. The only CTS studies known to the present authors in the United Kingdom are two small-scale studies of student dating relationships, one published [Archer and Ray, 1989] and one unpublished [see Kirsta, 1994] and a convenience sample of married couples [Russell and Hulson, 1992].

In the discussion of aggression within intimate relationships, the results from CTS studies have been controversial as, when sampling both men and women, they purport to show that aggression can be committed both male-to-female and vice versa to about the same extent. Thus, a sometimes heated and even confrontational debate between North American researchers or academics [e.g., see Straus, 1993; Kurz, 1993] has centred on the nature of physical conflict in heterosexual dyads and the context and meaning of results obtained in such studies. Critics of the CTS methodology [e.g., Bogarde, 1990; Kurz, 1993] argue that female-to-male assaults are in no way equivalent to male-to-female assaults and suggest a number of deficiencies of these studies. Central to these arguments have been assertions such as female-to-male violence is only committed in self-defense, in anticipation of an assault, or in retaliation against a previous male assault or that is is expressive, rather than instrumental, and less injurious.

This paper reports results of the first survey of conflict tactics in the United Kingdom for a national representative sample of heterosexual adults. Additionally, the survey conducted asked questions designed to be able to ascribe reason and context to reports of sustained or inflicted victimization.