Domestic violence is prevalent in many communities and affects all people regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a type of domestic violence that occurs in 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2020). Domestic violence occurs within a household and can be between any two people within that household while intimate partner violence occurs between romantic partners who may or may not be living together in the same household. Both are serious public health concerns that can cause long-term physical and mental health issues (Massa et al., 2020).
IPV is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological violence that occurs between former or current intimate partners. While men can also be affected, it is largely perpetrated against women by male partners (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2020). Unfortunately, the pandemic has been found to increase the risk of IPV. Research has shown that quarantine and isolation measures lead to significant psychological consequences (Van Gelder et al., 2020). Many of the strategies employed in abusive relations overlap with the social measures imposed during quarantine. Next to physical and geographical isolation, IPV survivors describe social isolation (i.e., from family and friends), functional isolation (e.g., when peers or support systems appear to exist but are unreliable or have alliances with the perpetrator), surveillance, and control of daily activities. During quarantine, these measures intentionally imposed in an abusive partnership may be enforced on a massive scale in an attempt to save lives. Isolation paired with greater exposure to psychological and economic stressors as well as potential increases in negative coping mechanisms (i.e., excessive alcohol consumption) can trigger an unprecedented wave of IPV (Van Gelder et al., 2020). In 2020 alone, domestic violence cases against women increased by 25-33% globally (Boserup et al., 2020).
Other factors that can contribute to IPV are substance use and being exposed to abuse in childhood (Jung et al., 2018). In the latest news with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, one expert witness claims Johnny exhibits behavior consistent with IPV and how addiction plays a role. Johnny is being accused of physically abusing Amber during their marriage, and he has had a history of substance use. Amber has also been found to have a history of substance use according to her former nurse’s testimony. Dr. Spiegel, a psychiatrist hired by Amber’s legal team, testified in the defamation case stating that chronic use can affect one’s memory and behavior, and can also increase violent and unpredictable moods. Additionally, in one study, researchers found that factors such as adverse childhood experiences, personality disorders, psychosis, and depression make substance use and IPV perpetration more likely (Gilchrist et al., 2019). This implies that comorbidity is extremely common in psychological disorders.
Having early exposure to domestic and/or intimate partner violence can increase the risks of later involvement in these types of violence (Jung et al., 2018). Researchers (2018) found that growing up in a violent home—experiencing child abuse and/or witnessing parental violence—was significantly associated with physical intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization in adult heterosexual marriages. This is because according to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory (1977), children can learn behavior through observation and imitation. Thus, children who witness violence when they are young become socialized to certain models that breed hostility and aggression. Children incorporate styles of relating to others based on what they perceive as “normal” within the family. If violence is a common occurrence, children come to view it as just part of the way individuals express emotions, such as anger and frustration, and process this as acceptable behavior (Powers et al., 2020). This seems to be the case for Amber when she stated in Johnny’s case against the Sun in 2020 that her father struggled with addiction and was violent towards her family (Longmire, 2020). Johnny has also stated that his parents had a turbulent marriage and often fought (Chilton, 2022).
With these findings, we can’t say there’s a causal relationship between IPV, substance use, and early exposure to violence. However, there seems to be a strong correlation between these factors. For Amber and Johnny, both have a history of substance use and early exposure to abuse, making this a complex case that represents what many others go through.
Resources on Domestic Violence: