Neighborhood-Level Predictors of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Nested Case Control Study.

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Intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV) is a significant public health problem, with recent prevalence rates suggesting that 15.8% of women and 9.5% of men have experienced sexual assault by an intimate partner (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2019). Intimate partner sexual violence is referred to by various terms, all of which can include a range of sexually abusive behaviors that occur within the context of a current or former intimate relationship.

While there is a growing body of research documenting environmental influences on intimate partner violence (IPV) generally, (e.g., socioeconomic conditions, social disorganization, community violence, rurality, availability of firearms; Peterson and Krivo, 2009; Sampson et al., 2002; Voith, 2019) little research has focused solely on environmental influences on IPSV. Additionally, the majority of IPSV research has only examined individual-level predictors of IPSV (e.g., alcohol and drug use, education level, racial inequality, aggression; Bagwell-Gray, Messing, & Baldwin-White, 2015), while ignoring the possible community-level influences. The goal of the current study is to examine both a range of neighborhood and individual-level predictors to explore factors that may influence the occurrence of IPSV.

Data for this exploratory project were obtained from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) online incident-based reporting system, which included reported IPSV cases in all 95 counties in Tennessee (n = 86,567). Additional community-level variables were retrieved from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps website. Neighborhood-level predictors include community violence, poverty, unemployment, income inequality, alcohol outset density, rurality, and firearm permits. Individual-level variables include the relationship type (intimate, family, acquaintance), the age of the victim and perpetrator (under 18, 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65 and over), and ethnicity. Dependent variables include four categories of sexual assault (forcible rape, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling, and forcible sodomy).

Due to the rare nature of sexual assaults, a nested case control design was used to evaluate the possible community- and individual-level factors impacting occurrence of IPSV. Each individual case of IPSV (four types of sexual assault; n = 2,678) were randomly matched to 5 simple assault cases (n = 47,896) that matched on age, race, and gender. Once cases are fully matched, multinomial logistic regression will be employed to determine the strongest community- and individual level predictors of IPSV. At present, we are continuing to match cases and estimate this to be completed by May.

By assessing the relations among environmental and individual influences on IPSV, this study may potentially inform community-level interventions to prevent sexual violence. An intimate partner’s susceptibility to sexual abuse may be influenced by their current environment, compounded further by known individual-level predictors of IPSV. Particularly true to IPSV, sexual assaults have been known to occur “behind closed doors,” which makes enacting social change and employing specific interventions difficult. By understanding both the individual and larger community predictors of IPSV, legal, clinical, and policy interventions may be better tailored to address the occurrence of sexual assault.


San Antonio, TX

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