Partner abuse and general crime: How are they the same? How are they different?

Terrie E. Moffitt, Robert F. Krueger, Avshalom Caspi, Jeff Fagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

185 Scopus citations


Both partner abuse and general crime violate the rights and safety of victims. But are these phenomena the same or are they distinct, demanding their own research and intervention specialties? Are persons who abuse their partners the same people who commit other criminal behavior? Do partner abuse and general crime share the same correlates? We investigated these questions in a birth cohort of over 800 young adults, by testing whether a personality model known to predict general crime would also predict partner abuse. Personality data were gathered at age 18, and self-reported partner abuse and general criminal offending were measured at age 21. Results from modeling latent constructs showed that partner abuse and general crime represent different constructs that are moderately related; they are not merely two expressions of the same underlying antisocial propensity. Group comparisons showed many, but not all, partner abusers also engaged in violence against nonintimates. Personality analyses showed that partner abuse and general crime shared a strong propensity from a trait called Negative Emotionality. However, crime was related to weak Constraint (low self-control), but partner abuse was not. All findings applied to women as well as to men, suggesting that women's partner abuse may be motivated by the same intra-personal features that motivate men's abuse. The results are consistent with theoretical and applied arguments about the "uniqueness" of partner violence relative to other crime and violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-232
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2000
Externally publishedYes


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