Witnessing Intimate Partner Violence as a
Child Does Not Increase the Likelihood of
Becoming an Adult Intimate Partner
Amy A. Ernst, MD, Steven J. Weiss, MD, Christie Del Castillo, MD, Jaime Aagaard, MD, Eduardo Marvez-Valls,
MDy, Juliet D’Angelo, BA, Shanna Combs, BFA, Alexander Feuchter, BA, Michael Hegyi, BA, Ross Clark, BS,
Brittany Coffman, BA
Objectives: To determine whether adults who witnessed intimate partner violence (IPV) as children would
have an increased rate of being victims of ongoing IPV, as measured by the Ongoing Violence Assessment
Tool (OVAT), compared with adult controls who did not witness IPV as children. The authors also sought to
determine whether there were differences in demographics in these two groups.
Methods: This was a cross sectional cohort study of patients presenting to a high-volume academic emer-
gency department. Emergency department patients presenting from November 16, 2005, to January 5,
2006, during 46 randomized four-hour shifts were included. A confidential computer touch-screen data en-
try program was used for collecting demographic data, including witnessing IPV as a child and the OVAT.
Main outcome measures were witnessing IPV as a child, ongoing IPV, and associated demographics.
Assuming a prevalence of IPV of 20% and a clinically significant difference of 20% between adults who
witnessed IPV as children and adult controls who did not witness IPV as children, the study was powered
at 80%, with 215 subjects included.
Results: A total of 280 subjects were entered; 256 had complete data sets. Forty-nine percent of subjects
were male, 45% were Hispanic, 72 (28%) were adults who witnessed IPV as children, and 184 (72%)
were adult controls who did not witness IPV as children. Sixty-three (23.5%) were positive for ongoing
IPV. There was no correlation of adults who witnessed IPV as children with the presence of ongoing
IPV, as determined by univariate and bivariate analysis. Twenty-three of 72 (32%) of the adults who wit-
nessed IPV as children, and 39 of 184 (21%) of the adult controls who did not witness IPV as children,
were positive for IPV (difference, 11%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = ?2% to 23%). Significant correlations
with having witnessed IPV as a child included age younger than 40 years (odds ratio [OR], 4.2; 95% CI = 1.7
to 9.1), income less than $20,000/year (OR, 5.1; 95% CI = 1.6 to 12.5), and abuse as a child (OR, 9.1; 95% CI =
4.2 to 19.6). Other demographics were not significantly correlated with having witnessed IPV as a child.
Conclusions: Adults who witnessed IPV as children were more likely to have a lower income, be younger,
and have been abused as a child, but not more likely to be positive for ongoing IPV, when compared with
patients who had not witnessed IPV.
ACADEMIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE 2007; 14:411–418 ª 2007 by the Society for Academic Emergency
Keywords: intimate partner violence, child witness of intimate partner violence, adult child witness
ntimate partner violence (IPV) is defined as persistent
physical abuse by one adult on another, both of
whom are involved in an intimate relationship with
the other as a spouse or a partner.1Studies suggest
that 8%–12% of all women experience some form of
IPV in any given year, and approximately 20%–50% of
From the Department of Emergency Medicine (AAE, SJW, CDC,
JA, RC), University of New Mexico (JD, SC, AF, MH, BC),
Albuquerque, NM; and Department of Emergency Medicine,
Louisiana State University (EM-V), Baton Rouge, LA.
Received September 20, 2006; revisions received November
6, 2006, and November 8, 2006; accepted November 8, 2006.
Presented at the SAEM annual meeting, San Francisco, CA,
Supported in part by contributions from the George Valente
Contact for correspondence and reprints: Amy A. Ernst, MD;
ª 2007 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine
PII ISSN 1069-6563583
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Ernst et al.?WITNESSING IPV AS A CHILD AND ADULT IPV