How Valid is the Question of Fear of a Partner in Identifying Intimate Partner Abuse? A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Four Studies

Marcos Signorelli, Angela Taft, Deirdre Gartland, Leesa Hooker, Christine McKee, Harriet MacMillan, Stephanie Brown, Kelsey Hegarty

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Intimate partner abuse (IPA) affects women’s health, requiring accurate questions to identify the abuse. We investigated the accuracy of three questions about fear of an intimate partner in identifying exposure to IPA. We compared the sensitivity and specificity of these questions with the Composite Abuse Scale (CAS) using secondary data analysis of four existing studies. All studies recruited adult women from clinical settings, with sample sizes ranging from 1,257 to 5,871. We examined associations between demographic factors and fear through multivariate logistic regression, and analysis of the sensitivity and specificity of the questions about fear and IPA (CAS), generating a receiver operating curve (ROC). The prevalence of lifetime fear of a partner ranged from 9.5% to 26.7%; 14.0% of women reported fear in the past 12 months; and current fear ranged from 1.3% to 3.3%. Comparing the three questions, the question “afraid of a partner in the past 12 months” was considered the best question to identify IPA. This question had the greatest area under the ROC (0.80, 95% confidence interval (CI) = [0.78–0.81]) compared with “are you currently afraid” (range 0.57–0.61) or “have you ever been afraid” (range 0.66–0.77); and demonstrated better sensitivity (64.8%) and specificity (94.8%). Demographic factors associated with “fear of a partner in the past 12 months” included being divorced/separated (odds ratio [OR] = 8.49, 95% CI = [6.70–10.76]); having a low income (OR = 4.21, 95% CI = [3.46–5.13]); and having less than 12 years of education (OR = 2.48, 95% CI = [2.04–3.02]). The question “In the last 12 months did you ever feel frightened by what your partner says or does?” has potential to identify a majority of women experiencing IPA, supporting its utilization where more comprehensive measures are not possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2535-2556
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • fear
  • health care
  • health care professionals
  • intimate partner abuse
  • violence against women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

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