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The Role of Stigma in Partner Violence

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Katie M. Edwards

Funding Information

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Date: Sep 3, 2019

End Date: Aug 31, 2022


Dating and domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), are serious public health and safety concerns in the United States. Research shows that IPV affects young adults at rates higher than other age groups. It is also associated with many negative outcomes, including psychological distress and school drop-out. The costs to society and to individuals is enormous.

Among those who experience intimate partner violence, sexual minorities (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, and other sexual minority persons (LGB+) ) show rates higher than heterosexual individuals. Higher rates of IPV among LGB+ individuals can be explained by the concept of sexual stigma — negative attitudes and discrimination directed toward individuals reporting same-sex attraction and behaviors.

This project develops a model of sexual stigma that identifies two distinct forms: institutional stigma and individual stigma. Institutional stigma refers to the discriminatory practices and policies of an organization or institution. Individual stigma refers to experiencing prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behavior from other people, as well as accepting negative beliefs about sexual minorities as true. 

Young adults attending a wide variety of colleges and universities will be surveyed to learn how attending a college that is less supportive toward LGB+ individuals (institutional stigma) can lead to feelings of shame and fears of being discriminated against (individual stigma) among LGB+ students. The extent to which these experiences increase risk for IPV among LGB+ students will also be examined. The model of sexual stigma developed in this project considers multiple pathways for such increased risk, including lower levels of social support, increased drinking, difficulties with managing emotions and increases in depression. The alarming rates of IPV among LGB+ students on college campuses across the country makes it a high public health priority to identify factors that contribute to these increased rates and to ultimately develop effective prevention efforts.

This project develops and tests the multi-level sexual stigma model of intimate partner violence (MLSSM-IPV). A longitudinal survey will be conducted of over 20,000 LGB+ and heterosexual students and more than 7,500 faculty, staff, and administrators across 15 large residential colleges and universities. The institutions will vary in the extent to which they have made efforts to establish a supportive climate for LGB+ students. Several hypotheses derived from the MLSSM-IPV model will be tested. It will identify important mechanisms by which sexual stigma increases rates of IPV. The project is an important step in developing comprehensive and effective approaches to the prevention of intimate partner violence associated with a key vulnerable population.

Academic Intervention & Learning