A New Approach for Reducing Intimate Partner Violence

Dec 13, 2016 | By Vivien Caetano, Hannah Spring, & Lydia Trupe in Blog

Globally, one in three women report experiencing violence at the hands of an intimate partner. In some countries, like Ethiopia, over 60% of women experience intimate partner violence (IPV). Each of these instances devastates the lives of women and their families for generations.

Over the past few years, we’ve studied intimate partner violence through a behavioral lens, seeking to understand the context in which violence occurs. While many circumstances precede violence, one that stood out in our research was the role of alcohol. Researchers working in IPV have long recognized that alcohol consumption is an important contributor to the problem of violence. Anecdotal and empirical evidence demonstrates that men returning home after a night of drinking may be prone to aggression, increasing the likelihood that they will be violent toward their partner.

Despite recognizing this link, relatively few programs have attempted to reduce IPV by reducing alcohol use. Maybe this comes from a general hesitance to work directly with men instead of with women or families. Or maybe approaches to reduce alcohol use are seen as too clinical in nature or outside the scope of IPV programming. Whatever the cause, there are a handful of very effective interventions to reduce alcohol use, but only a small fraction have been tested for their effectiveness in reducing IPV. Of these, very few (if any) have been tested in developing countries, where they’re needed the most.

One promising intervention that has been implemented and tested in Chennai, India was conducted by one of our academic affiliates, Frank Schilbach. In his work, he showed that giving rickshaw pullers an incentive (in the form of money in a savings account) to stay sober during the workday reduced daytime drinking. He also demonstrated through his experiment that the men wanted to reduce how much they drank. In the study, he gave them a choice: they could either receive the incentive only when they came to the study office sober, or they could receive it regardless of whether they were sober. Strikingly, many of the men in the study chose the first option. They were willing to forego guaranteed money, instead favoring a commitment device that would help them reduce how frequently they drank alcohol.

At ideas42, we are teaming up with leading experts in the field including Research Triangle Institute and APSA to develop and test a novel approach to reducing alcohol use and IPV. The intervention combines the power of incentives – as demonstrated from Schilbach’s work – with psychological interventions, which have shown great promise in high-income countries. We plan to pilot test our approach in Bangalore, India to determine the potential for success in more resource-constrained settings where effective interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence are needed.