Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Michael G. Maxfield

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice


Ecological Model, Indirect Abuse, Intimate partner violence, Opportunity Theory, Post-separation Abuse, Separation


Previous research has found that risk of physical abuse increases during the process of separation (Brownridge, 2006). Given the opportunity structure changes once the separation process begins, abusers may be more likely to engage in indirect abuse when their partner begins the process. Indirect abuse is the use of third parties, such as children or family/friends, to manipulate the abused woman. In the current study, opportunity is measured with both events abused women report and relationship characteristics that increase or decrease the likelihood the victim and offender converge in time and space.

The study relies on data from the Chicago Women Health Risk Survey (N=469). Events are captured on a life history calendar and theoretically categorized into six types. The association of events and relationship characteristics with indirect and physical abuse is tested. A survival analysis is also conducted to identify if separation increases or decreases the time elapsed between physical abuse incidents.

Overall, events are not significant and reliable predictors of abuse, both physical and indirect. Employment of both individuals in the couple decreases risk of physical abuse and indirect abuse to a lesser extent. Separated respondents are significantly more likely to report indirect abuse, especially indirect abuse that involves the children. There is not a significant difference between separated and non-separated respondents on the total number of and the timing between physical abuse incidents, with 75% of the sample reporting the second physical abuse incident occurred 2 weeks or more after the first.

The results challenge previous work on risk of abuse during the process of separation and calls for a more nuanced understanding of the separation process. Awareness should be raised about indirect abuse and harm reduction strategies should be implemented during child custody cases. Policy for intimate partner violence victims, especially those that have begun the process of separation, should focus on measures that revolve around access to employment and that limit the opportunity for the abuser and victim to converge in time and space. Future research should examine the role of technology and how it may or may not facilitate indirect abuse.



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