Introduction

In 1995, Johnson published what has become a foundational piece in the study of intimate partner violence (IPV). For example, as we write this today, the number of citations in Web of Science of the 1995 piece is 1,292. In that piece, Johnson sought to understand the roots of what had been referred to as the gender symmetry debate and, in doing so, proposed that the root of the issue was bifurcated. He proposed there was both a reality of the phenomenon and methodological differences fueling the divergent findings between those who showed gender symmetry in IPV perpetration (i.e., family violence researchers) and those who showed gender asymmetry in IPV perpetration, with men primarily perpetrators against women (i.e., feminist researchers). In fact, he proposed that there were multiple types of IPV that showed up in different proportions depending on methodological choices, and that the types differed in causes, patterns, consequences, frequency in the general population, and gender symmetry. Agency or clinical samples heavily include people who have experienced or perpetrated what he initially called patriarchal terrorism, now referred to as intimate terrorism or coercive controlling violence (CCV; Johnson, 2017). That is physical violence, perpetrated along with other tactics of abuse in service of gaining or maintaining power and control over one’s partner and depriving them of personal rights and freedom (i.e., coercive control). In the context of different-gender couples, this is perpetrated largely by men against women. In contrast, large, general population samples disproportionately tapped into what he initially labeled common couple violence, now referred to as situational couple violence (SCV; Johnson, 2017). That is physical violence that occurs as a result of conflict or escalating arguments that is not grounded in a relationship-wide motive of one partner to coercively control the other partner. In the context of different-gender couples, men and women in general samples were equally likely to report perpetrating this type of violence in relationships. He also identified two other, less frequently researched types of IPV: violent resistance (VR) and mutual violent control (MVC). Violent resistance is violence used to resist a perpetrator of coercive controlling violence. Such resistance may include but is not synonymous with self-defense. Mutual violent control is violence between two partners using CCV. This was initially theorized by Johnson and has been identified in some studies (Frankland & Brown, 2014; Graham-Kevan et al., 2012; Hines & Douglas, 2018), but is now thought by Johnson to be violent resistance if subjected to deeper inspection (Johnson, 2017). Using nationally representative samples, Johnson theorized and then empirically found that SCV is the more common type of IPV at the population level, whereas CCV is the more common type identified in help-seeking samples or studies using data from IPV shelters, clinical health settings, hospitals, and legal systems (i.e., criminal, civil). Johnson described CCV as the type of IPV that most researchers, the general population, and professionals working with families impacted by family violence (e.g., court-appointed custody evaluators, police officers, mental health professionals) think of when envisioning “domestic violence” or “battering.”

Inspiration and Goals for Special Issue

The 1995 piece, which was meant to resolve debates, landed with a splash and has led to decades of continued debates over gender symmetry and whether there are indeed meaningfully different types of IPV as Johnson proposed. There has been neither universal support nor condemnation of Johnson’s typology. What is clear, particularly in the heavy citation of his works, is that the typology has changed the way that scholars of IPV think about and approach their research.

This issue was conceived of in 2020, on the 25th anniversary of Johnson’s initial publication, as one of the guest editors was working on a piece that included a historical look at where sociological scholarship on domestic violence had been and where it was now (Cares et al., 2021). We are grateful that Rebecca Macy, the then editor of Journal of Family Violence, agreed that it was timely to take stock of the current state of work related to the typology, as well as pushing to see where it may head in the next quarter century.

Although each of us has worked with Johnson in various capacities – as students (Johnson & Cares, 2004), co-authors (e.g., Hardesty et al., 2015), and colleagues in professional organizations – and has applied the typology in our own work (Haselschwerdt, 2014; Haselschwerdt et al, 2019a; Nielsen et al., 2015; Rosen et al., 2005; Stith et al., 2011), our goal was to bring together an issue that provided the current state of knowledge on Johnson’s typology and invite authors to push it in new directions empirically, methodologically, or theoretically and to do so with a global rather than an exclusively U.S.-based perspective. This included trying to address what we perceived as some glaring gaps. First, that few scholars of color who do work in the area of IPV use Johnson’s typology and not enough research has been done with racially and ethnically minoritized adult populations with Johnson’s typology (for some exceptions done with racially and ethnically diverse samples, see Frye et al., 2006; Harper, 2016; Leone, 2011; Leone et al., 2004, 2007, 2014; Rosen et al., 2005; Stith et al., 2011; McKay et al., 2020). Even when including racially and ethnically diverse samples, the work has not always theorized the ways in which systems of oppression intersect with Johnson’s typology or engaged in foundational discussions of gender, power, and patriarchy to provide essential contexts for the study of minoritized groups. Second, that limited research has been undertaken with gender and sexual minoritized populations, as most work, both empirical and theoretical, has treated gender as a binary and has been heteronormative (for exceptions, see Frankland & Brown, 2014; Hardesty et al., 2008). Third, that limited work has been done in contexts outside the U.S.. Finally, that limited work has been done with children, adolescents, and emerging adults (for some exceptions see Conroy & Crowley, 2022; Haselschwerdt et al., 2019a, 2020) and most work with youth has focused on exposure to CCV only (Callaghan et al., 2018; Katz, 2022; Øverlien, 2013).

To accomplish our goals for the special issue, we were intentional in our call for abstracts and review process. In the call for abstracts and in instructions to authors, we tried to make clear that manuscripts did not have to report findings that confirmed Johnson’s predictions or that confirmed the typology, but that they did have to appropriately operationalize the types. Initial abstracts were blindly reviewed independently and then discussed by all four special issue guest co-editors. If a guest co-editor submitted an abstract, then that guest co-editor recused herself from reviewing that abstract, relying on the evaluation of two or three co-editors who were blinded from knowing the identity of the abstract authors. Invited manuscripts were not guaranteed publication, but went through the same double-blind review process typically used by Journal of Family Violence. For most manuscripts, one of the reviewers was an author of another manuscript submitted for inclusion in the special issue. As special issue guest co-editors, we read the reviewer comments and publication recommendation, read the article itself, and then also produced our own comments, as well as provided an editorial recommendation to the journal editor. The resulting articles include contributions from diverse disciplines, different countries, and authors representing different academic ranks from both research-intensive and teaching-intensive universities. Finally, in collaboration with the editor, we included two invited commentaries: one to address the utility of Johnson’s typology for practice, co-authored by two scholars who are therapists who have used Johnson’s typology in their clinical work and teaching (Stith & Spencer, this issue), and one from Johnson, asking him to reflect on the articles in the special issue (Johnson, this issue).

Contributions of the Special Issue Articles

Taking Stock of What We Know

The three included review pieces (Cares et al., 2024; Conroy et al., 2024a, 2024b) reflect what has been empirically done thus far with Johnson’s typology, and provide a current picture of what we know. A critical contribution of the combined works of Conroy and colleagues is they identified that over 40% (so 2 in 5) of the empirical works testing Johnson’s propositions for the typology included at least one conceptual and at least one methodological misapplication (Conroy et al., 2024). Their first review is limited to analysis of the findings of empirical pieces that appropriately applied and modeled Johnson’s typology in testing the theory’s propositions. They defined a proposition as supported if all the studies that tested it had findings consistent with what was predicted, as partially supported if the findings were mixed or supported only part of a multi-part proposition, and as not supported if the empirical findings did not align with the prediction (Conroy et al., 2024a). Their review includes clear findings that directly undermine claims that all IPV is gender symmetric – instead evidencing that, at least in cis-heterosexual relationships, SCV is equally likely to be perpetrated by men and women, but CCV is more likely to be perpetrated by men against women.

Expanding in New Directions

All of the works highlighted in this section point to the importance of understanding types of IPV in the context of people’s lives, communities, and cultures, as there will be variations with important implications for prevention and intervention.

U.S. Incarcerated Populations and Johnson’s Typology

Two articles used samples focused on individuals currently or formerly incarcerated (Leone & Beeble, 2024; McKay, 2024). This is an important population for study, given the rise and persistence of mass incarceration in the U.S., and its impact on couples, families, and communities, especially for racially and ethnically marginalized groups. Leone and Beeble interviewed women who were incarcerated, documenting how they were subjected to high levels of CCV before their incarceration, engaged in high levels of pre-incarceration help-seeking, and experienced high levels of current psychological distress. Given that three-quarters of participants had past incarcerations and 30% reported their criminal behavior involved their abusive partner, Leone and Beeble suggest that mental health providers and domestic violence services agencies may want to screen clients for and consider the impact of criminal legal system involvement. Such screening may be particularly important in crafting safety plans and mapping out support services, given two of the top three places participants sought help before incarceration were mental health counselors and domestic violence counselors. McKay applied Bronfenbrenner’s social ecological model to explore how individual and community factors related to SCV and CCV. Her work demonstrated the indirect effects of context, namely local social and structural conditions, on individual factors among formally incarcerated men who engaged in IPV against women noting important differences between SCV and CCV. For example, attending to the socio-emotional needs (including feelings of helplessness and hopelessness for SCV and post-traumatic stress for CCV) of men re-entering their communities has the potential to lower IPV perpetration. Taken together, these studies highlight the need for education and training within the criminal legal system on types of IPV to inform the provision of appropriate services related to perpetration and victimization, with implications for reducing barriers to re-entry.

Reaching Johnson’s Typology Beyond Marriages of Women to Men

Cunningham and Anderson (2024) utilized data on men-women couples from a national U.S. dataset (the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey dataset) to replicate and extend Johnson’s work including ex-spouses from general population studies for a more inclusive look at gender symmetry of types of IPV (Johnson et al., 2014). Their work extended to relationship contexts beyond marriage, also including current and former cohabitating and dating relationships. Their findings included that SCV was far more common than CCV, but both were gender symmetric in current relationships. However, for ex-partners, while SCV remained gender symmetric, CCV was more likely to be experienced by women than men, regardless of the relationship context. This mirrored Johnson and colleagues’ (2014) findings comparing spouses and ex-spouses. Cunningham and Anderson’s work also extends our knowledge of differences with the finding that post-break up violence is more likely in relationships with CCV than SCV, a pattern that holds true for men and women. Although there were some differences across relationship types, all had substantial levels of both types of IPV, which points to the importance of screening for IPV by type across relationship status (i.e., married, cohabiting, and dating relationships) and safety planning regardless of relationship type, including for post-break-up.

Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield’s work (2024) challenges the often unacknowledged cis-heteronormative focus of the original conceptualization of Johnson’s typology, by expanding our understanding of the complexity of how power and control manifest in couple dynamics by examining the inextricable interplay of cissexism, cisheteromormativity, racism, and other systems of oppression in queer relationships. In order to accomplish this, Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield use Ferguson’s (2004, 2019) queer of color critique framework to demonstrate the multidimensionality of power, specifically how racialized and cisheteronormative systems differentially privilege or oppress partners in queer relationships, and raise questions for further research and interventions to meet the needs of this diverse population of multiple social identities. By creating two queer theoretical extensions to Johnson’s typology that focus on how we work with categorizations of people and social phenomenon in research and practice, and how we can expand our thinking about power and control, Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield have forged the beginning of a path for future research that allows for a more inclusive application and extension of Johnson’s typology.

Johnson’s Typology in a Global Context

Although written contemporaneously, Cleghorn and colleagues (2024) address some of the gaps Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield highlighted regarding work on IPV in queer populations via interviews with cisgender participants about same-gender IPV in Trinidad and Tobago. They identified narratives consistent with CCV, SCV, and violent resistance, but resisted strict categorizations of the narratives of a relationship into a certain type. The narratives and analysis highlighted how cultural norms towards same-gender relationships can create social structures that influence these relationships – such as there being limited social spaces for those in same-gender relationships, resulting in a limited ability to avoid ex-partners.

The article by Nawaz and Johnson (2024) analyzing husbands’ partner violence against wives in Pakistan challenges us to think beyond dyadic partner relationships (i.e., marriages, cohabitations, and dating relationships, Cunningham & Anderson, 2024) to how the inclusion of extended family and their influence on family dynamics, including IPV, is essential for studying families beyond but also within Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD, Henrich et al., 2010) countries. In this case, Nawaz and Johnson found cases of both SCV and CCV experienced by wives, but also identified a third type of IPV largely differentiated by the presence of violence perpetrated by in-laws in addition to the husband. A careful examination of this work also reflects the need to adjust measures to fit cultural contexts – in this case, such as using kerosene or acid as a physical abuse tactic and asking about threats to send a woman back home to her parents as a control tactic.

Looking Ahead

As pleased as we are with this special issue, it could not address all that needed to be done related to Johnson’s Typology. We now take some time to identify things we see as still needing to be done.

Conceptual and Methodological Rigor

Our recommendations for future directions in scholarship begins with an emphasis on the importance of conceptual and methodological accuracy and rigor in testing the typology and its propositions. In Conroy and colleagues’ reviews (2024a), they identified that over 40% of empirical studies included misconceptualizations and/or methodological misapplications. The implications of this are clear – in those studies appropriately conceptualized and tested, there was overwhelming support for Johnson’s typology and its related propositions. The findings in their second review identify common pitfalls conceptually and methodologically which when combined with the first review provide a roadmap for researchers of best practices in testing Johnson’s Typology and its propositions.

Collecting data in more ways would allow for extensive testing of Johnson’s typology and a fuller understanding of the nature of the types of IPV. The use of data where participants self-report on their own and partner actions allows the study of IPV perpetration, given most past work has focused on victimization. Data on both partners would allow for easier examination of the full typology, as much past work has looked at CCV and/or SCV, but little has looked at VR and MVC. Gathering data on both partners from samples including all genders would allow for a better understanding of if and how the types may differ by gender in their etiology, manifestation, and outcomes. Ideally, such studies would collect prospective, longitudinal data which would allow us to better understand the development and change in coercive control and physical violence over time in relationships. This would help us know more about patterns or relationship trajectories over time of not just CCV, but also SCV and VR, as well as investigate Johnson’s proposition that MVC upon closer inspection is likely VR. As highlighted by works like McKay (2024), our understanding of the etiology of the different types of IPV would also be enhanced through more macro-level or social-ecological studies, that include factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels.

Conceptual rigor may also mean expanding the typology in two ways. One is to expand the typology beyond a focus on physical violence given the importance of coercive control. Past research has highlighted the destructive nature of coercive control even in the absence of violence (e.g., Crossman et al., 2016) and that, for some outcomes, it may be as impactful as CCV (Conroy & Crowley, 2022). This expansion is further warranted given that coercive control has been codified into law in several countries (e.g., England and Scotland, Stark & Hester, 2019) and some states in the U.S. (e.g., California, Connecticut, Hawaii). Another, as pointed out by Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield (2024), is to expand beyond the typology’s historical cis-heteronormative lens. Given that gender norms and patriarchy have played a central role in the conceptualization of the typology, this requires not only the type of theorizing engaged in by Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield, but also empirical examination including all genders and sexual identities. For example, Conroy and colleagues' first review (2024a) identified only two empirical studies that appropriately operationalized and conceptualized Johnson’s typology that included same-gender relationships (Frankland & Brown, 2014; Hardesty et al., 2008).

Expand Work on Understudied Populations

There is continued importance in making distinctions, not just among types of IPV, but also in understanding how Johnson’s typology may and may not apply based on diverse identities and social locations. This means expanding work to previously understudied populations and being attuned to how the intersections of identity, power, and structure influence IPV experiences and related help-seeking. We caution against approaches that aggregate heterogeneous groups together, such as analyses comparing racial and ethnic minoritized populations to white populations. Instead group specific studies are more helpful in understanding how the specific contexts of marginalization intersect with experiences of victimization and help-seeking by IPV type, as well as with perpetration by IPV type.

Identities and accompanying privileges and systems of oppression are culturally embedded, such that there are documented differences in how IPV is perpetrated and experienced by survivors. As highlighted by Nawaz and Johnson (2024) and Cleghorn and colleagues (2024), more work is needed in different cultural contexts, to better understand how types of IPV may or may not manifest in cultures outside the U.S. and even diverse cultural contexts within the U.S. To do this requires conducting studies with populations across the globe, including with immigrant and refugee communities. This work should pay careful attention to tactics of control that are uniquely expressed because of ideologies, structures, and policies that are deeply culturally embedded (e.g., Nawaz & Johnson, 2024). This will require careful adaptation and translation of measures, as most research on Johnson’s Typology has been conducted in English, which excludes the majority of the world’s population (for an exception, see Tiwari et al., 2015).

Cunningham and Anderson (2024) expanded Johnson’s typology across different relationship types – dating and cohabiting relationships in addition to marriages, as well as current and former versions of all three relationship types. Given their work found important differences across relationship types and current and former relationships, this approach should be extended in future work, as well as expanded to relationship types that are less common and are socially stigmatized (e.g., polyamorous relationships). Relationship types, particularly those that are stigmatized, may factor into how power can be exercised, as highlighted in Bermea and van Eeden-Moorefield’s theoretical expansion of Johnson’s Typology (2024).

As highlighted in the previous section, the examination of Johnson’s Typology needs to be expanded across the lifespan to better understand how types of IPV change over time. Although we recommended more prospective, longitudinal studies as ideal, such studies will be limited given that they are resource intensive. An additional approach is for more research to be conducted on types of IPV among younger and older populations. For younger populations, this would include looking at how IPV by type manifests in adolescent and young adult populations (for an example with adolescents, see Messinger et al., 2014) and how different types of IPV impact children and adolescents in the short and long term (for an example, see Øverlien’s, 2013 study of the impact of witnessing CCV on children). A roadmap for this has been partially provided by Haselschwerdt (2014). Very little work has been done on IPV and older populations (ages 50 and older), including with the typology. However, more knowledge of how different types of IPV manifest for older populations will increase in importance given the current exponential growth in older populations in the U.S. and other high-income countries.

To return to the concept of methodological rigor, expanding to more work on the understudied populations highlighted in this section may require modification of existing measures or development of new ones. This is particularly the case to reflect the lived experiences of coercive control, whose tactics may differ in important ways across identities and contexts.

The Importance of Making Distinctions Explicit

As pointed out earlier, work on Johnson’s Typology has largely been conducted in English and in WEIRD nations. However, that focus and what it may mean for IPV in general is often left unaddressed in such work. Further, it is typically not acknowledged in titles and abstracts. Manuscript titles and abstracts should be clear about what is being examined and for whom. For example, if a study is about IPV perpetration by men against women in different-gender relationships, that should be clear – it is less helpful for the title of such an article to just use IPV with no qualifier. To the extent possible, titles and abstracts should be explicit about what type(s) of IPV are being studied to avoid unwarranted generalizations to IPV generically.

Expand the Reach of the Typology to Other Areas of IPV Research

Although Johnson’s work has had a significant impact on the study of IPV, it still can be integrated in a broader swath of IPV research. One prime example is study of the intergenerational transmission of violence, which is a heavily researched aspect of IPV. Johnson actually refers to this as the intergenerational (non)transmission of violence (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000). Smith-Marek and colleagues (2015) support this conclusion, noting only a small effect size linking IPV exposure and adult IPV involvement. However, it is unknown whether this effect size varies by type of IPV exposure and types of adult IPV involvement. Efforts to explore the intergenerational (non)transmission of violence in meta-analyses and scoping reviews are stymied due to tremendous methodological variability and little methodological complexity, with no studies examining IPV context or types (Haselschwerdt et al., 2019b).

Another area for integration is looking at how Johnson’s typology interacts with policy and program initiatives in the criminal and civil legal system, healthcare, social services, and other sectors. Does the impact of prevention programs and intervention efforts differ by type of IPV? What are the appropriate approaches to different types of IPV? For example, Stith and Spence (2024) outlined the development of a treatment for couples experiencing SCV that has been effective in reducing IPV. Additionally, some have advocated for family courts to make distinctions between CCV and SCV so divorce and custody agreements are appropriate to the type of violence experienced and therefore help promote safety for parents and children (Kelly & Johnson, 2008; ver Steegh, 2005). Others have argued application of the typology in family court is inappropriate and has resulted in harm – that Johnson’s typology has been weaponized by alleged perpetrators, often fathers in divorce and custody proceedings, as well as court personnel (Meier, 2017). This includes claiming IPV perpetration is “merely SCV” to minimize its impact and deem that safety measures, such as supervised visitation, that are appropriate in cases of CCV are unnecessary, even when court records demonstrate a pattern of physical violence rooted in chronic coercive control (Meier, 2017). What both groups agree on is the importance of assessing each case individually, given that although CCV is typically more dangerous, SCV can be harmful and even fatal. This highlights the need for continued research to ensure greater understanding of differences by IPV type and implications for the safety and well-being of parents and children, and for that research to be disseminated in ways easily accessible to family court personnel.

Remember to Link to Policy and Practice

All of what is in laid out the previous sections is important because fuller and more nuanced knowledge can inform program and policy—both prevention and intervention strategies. When research is done well and communicated to or conducted in partnership with practitioners, it can improve responses to IPV. This includes practitioners who interact with those who have experienced, perpetrated, witnessed, or otherwise been impacted by IPV. Some of these are practitioners whose primary interactions are via healthcare, schools, therapy, victim services, social services, or the criminal and civil legal systems.

Last Words

We remain grateful for this opportunity to take stock of what Johnson’s Typology has contributed to the study of IPV, as well as move the field forward. We are also grateful for the opportunity it gave us to be more tightly tied to each other as scholars and to develop new networks with the authors and reviewers. This reflects our commitment to the role special issues can play in building and nurturing a scholarly community. We have many people to thank. It begins with thanking Rebecca Macy, the then editor of Journal of Family Violence, for her support of this special issue, and Lynette Renner, the current editor, for her support in the special issue’s end stages. Our thanks include all those who submitted abstracts, were invited to submit manuscripts, and the authors whose work ultimately appears in this issue. It also includes the anonymous reviewers whose careful reading of manuscripts, helpful feedback, and willingness to review revisions made for stronger articles.

In closing, we want to acknowledge this special issue was a process during which lives entered this world and others were lost. In the months and years this special issue ultimately encompassed, millions of people experienced IPV in the U.S. and globally (Thompson & Tapp, 2022, 2023) and tens of thousands died from IPV related homicide (Smith, 2022; UNODC, 2021). It is with those and others before them in mind that we remember that while there may be different types of IPV, we do this work to move us ahead in their memories and towards work that will allow all individuals to be safe in their intimate partnerships.

We dedicate this special issue to the memory of James Edward (Ed) Hardesty, the father of Dr. Jennifer Hardesty, who was lost to COVID in November of 2020 as we worked on this special issue.