Current controversies in Nordic intimate partner violence research

by Maiju Tanskanen

Some repeated empirical findings and general criminological notions, such as the associations between various types of crime and the victim–offender overlap, remain relatively overlooked in Nordic intimate partner violence (IPV) research. Understanding the full ramifications of the phenomenon may require challenging some prevalent assumptions on the nature of IPV.

Maiju Tanskanen. Photo: Tuomas Näsi.

 In some research literature, the Nordic countries are reported to have a disproportionally high prevalence of IPV against women (e.g. FRA, 2014). Related to the relatively high levels of gender equality in the Nordic countries, this has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Nordic paradox’. While it may be questionable whether these findings reflect true differences in IPV prevalence or methodological issues (e.g. invalid cross-cultural comparisons), it seems clear that IPV presents a significant social problem in the Nordics. Yet several research gaps remain in Nordic IPV research, which also have implications for the somewhat controversial understandings of the nature and causes of IPV.

Most research as well as societal discussion on IPV revolves around the relationship between gender and violence, or the genderedness of IPV. Although understanding the role of gender in IPV is critical, extensive research from this perspective may have overshadowed other important aspects of IPV. Notably, IPV has generally been studied separately from other types of crime in the Nordic context, and consequently, it seems that knowledge acquired through general criminological research has only been narrowly incorporated into IPV research. In addition, the overall associations between IPV and other types of crime have not been acknowledged in most research literature. This is likely to be related to the tendency of some theoretical perspectives, such as the gendered framework, to emphasize the distinctiveness of IPV in comparison to other crime.

Theoretical distinctions addressing IPV separately from other crime are not necessarily empirically supported. In a recent study, we found significant association between IPV victimization and other violent victimization based on the Finnish National Crime Victim Survey (Tanskanen & Kivivuori, 2021). In another recent study, we found non-IPV criminal offending to be common among police-recorded Finnish IPV offenders (Tanskanen & Aaltonen, 2022). Overall, these findings point towards the “generality” of IPV, highlighting the potential relevance of general criminological notions and ideas in examining IPV.

The co-occurrence of criminal victimization and offending, also referred to as the victim–offender overlap, represents one persistent criminological finding that has not been properly addressed in IPV theory and research. Specifically, IPV victims and offenders have generally been studied and theorized as two distinct categories, and bidirectional violence has emerged as a controversial topic in the IPV research field despite repeated findings on the high prevalence of the co-occurrence of IPV offending and victimization. Generally speaking, the controversy is often attributable to a lack of research and/or inconclusive research findings. As for the victim–offender overlap in IPV, the question of what is causing the overlap is practically completely overlooked in empirical research.

In a current research project, we study the victim–offender overlap in IPV with the aim of increasing understanding on why IPV victims are often also IPV offenders. In practice, we assess the extent to which a temporal association between IPV victimization and offending can be detected in a large dataset of Finnish police-recorded IPV cases. Examining the association between victimization and offending in a within-individual manner and for women and men separately allows for an empirical assessment of different explanatory frameworks and theoretical mechanisms producing the association. Results from this study are expected in late 2022.


FRA; European Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). Violence against Women: An EU-wide Survey. Main Results. Vienna: European Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Tanskanen, M., & Aaltonen, M. (2022). Social correlates of specialized versus versatile offending patterns in intimate partner violence: A register-based study in Finland. Journal of Criminal Justice, 81.

Tanskanen, M., & Kivivuori, J. (2021). Understanding intimate partner violence in context: social and community correlates of special and general victimization. Nordic Journal of Criminology, 22(1), 72-89.

Maiju Tanskanen is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, University of Helsinki. She is working on her doctoral theses titled “Criminological Perspectives into Intimate Partner Violence”.