Knowledge synthesis: Intervention practices for intimate partner sexual violence

About the project

Intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV) exists at the intersection of two forms of violence against women—sexual violence (SV) and intimate partner violence (IPV)—which may be why it is so rarely studied (Bagwell-Gray et al., 2015). Studies that look at optimizing IPV practices rarely document SV, while studies that document best practices for SV survivors do not take the distinctive characteristics of intimate partner violence into consideration (Nguyen and Naugle, 2019).

Given the lack of recent data on intervention practices with IPSV survivors, this project aims to:

  1. survey the prevention and intervention practices designed for adult female SV survivors:
  2. document the features of the interventions: and
  3. formulate recommendations that resources and shelters for female victims of IPV can use to adapt their interventions.

The recommendations made by PRISMA (Moher et al., 2009), the Cochrane Collaboration (Higgins and Green, 2011) and Kmet et al. (2004) informed this systematic narrative literature review. The most commonly used social science databases were examined to identify studies focusing on prevention or intervention practices aimed at adult female survivors of SV that enable them to develop their resistance skills or take back a sense of empowerment (Berkowitz, 2014).

Key findings

  1. Support practices
    • Survivors’ safety is paramount in intervention practices, but this can limit recourse to a support network.
    • Trust and transparency are advised in most interventions and are needed to avoid retraumatizing survivors.
    • Peer support is often encouraged to validate survivors’ experiences and act as a protective factor for recovery.
    • Most studies identify re-empowerment as a key part of the recovery process. It allows SV survivors to feel that they have the tools to choose how they want to be supported and the resistance strategies they want to use.
    • SV is inextricably linked to the cultural, historical and gender-specific contexts in which it (re)occurs. To help survivors defend their rights and recognize their value, many interventions use discussions about social influences to deconstruct gender norms.
  2. Prevention programs
    • Most prevention practices aim to reduce the risk of (re)victimization and are based on an analysis of the best strategies to use in a given situation. These practices generally include components that raise women’s awareness of gender-based violence and help them deconstruct myths about SV and the psychological barriers to resistance, recognize dangerous situations and implement various resistance strategies. Although IPSV is not the focus of targeted interventions, many of these practices acknowledge the distinctive characteristics of this type of violence.
    • Most programs target young adults at higher education institutions and are offered in a group format. A single program (WomenStrength) took place in the community, and the suitability of extending this program to other contexts is supported by evaluation data.
    • All identified programs improved the women’s feeling of self-efficacy in their use of various resistance strategies, while four programs reduced the incidence of SV. According to evaluation studies in which a differentiated impact analysis was conducted based on the relationship with the attacker, these programs could also be effective in intimate relationships.

Policy implications

  • Although female IPSV survivors can receive IPV or SV services, these two types of services are not integrated together. It would be ideal for all IPV support workers to receive in-depth training in sexual education and SV prevention. The relationship dynamics of SV in intimate relationships is different from the dynamics of SV perpetrated by an acquaintance or stranger. Therefore, it is necessary to take this specific victimization context into account to support survivors in their recovery.
  • IPV policies should recommend that every IPSV survivor be guided by a key support worker throughout the aid process. These system navigators would facilitate continuity and cooperation for services and ensure that the services continue to meet survivors’ needs. This would support resource optimization, given the growing number of IPSV cases being uncovered and the increased demand for aid and shelter resources for IPV survivors.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Mylène Fernet (principal investigator), professor, Department of Sexology, Université du Québec, Montréal:

Martine Hébert, professor, Department of Sexology, Université du Québec, Montréal:

Catherine Flynn, associate professor, Social Work Teaching Unit, Université du Québec, Chicoutimi:

Andréanne Lapierre, postdoctoral fellow, International Centre for Comparative Criminology, Université de Montréal:

Valérie Théorêt, postdoctoral fellow, School of Criminology, Université de Montréal:

Stéphanie Couture, doctoral candidate, Department of Sexology, Université du Québec, Montréal:

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