Intimate-Partner Violence—What a Difference a Day Makes

The frequency of occurrences can depend on the day of the week or year.

Posted Sep 28, 2016

By guest contributor Randy McCarthy

To prevent intimate-partner violence, a prevalent problem in our society, researchers are making strides to better understand its dynamics. And here’s a finding related to its frequency of occurrence that might be surprising: The day of the week or year matters.

I thought this would make for a topical discussion as we approach October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Source: Thinkstock

I’ve done research in this area in my work at the Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault at Northern Illinois University. But I’m not alone in coming to this conclusion. Below I discuss three studies, each using vastly different sources of data that converge onto common findings.

First, Vasquez, Stohr, and Purkiss (2005) examined crime data in the state of Idaho from the years 1995 to 2001. They focused on crimes involving an intimate relationship, such as spouse, ex-spouse, common-law spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, and partners of the same gender.

If the timing of intimate-partner violence was even across the days of the week, we would expect about 28.6% of the incidents to occur on the weekend, or Saturdays and Sundays (100/7 = ~14.3 × 2 = ~ 28.6%). However, the researchers found that 36 percent of the incidents in their database occurred on weekends. In other words, intimate-partner violence was disproportionately more likely to occur on weekend days than weekdays. Further, the researchers found that a similarly disproportionate number of  incidents occurred on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, and Independence Day.

In a second study, Cohn and Rotton (2003) analyzed a database of calls for service received by the Minneapolis police department over a three-year period in the late 1980s. These authors found that calls for domestic violence were especially likely on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve.

Finally, in 2013 I led a study with several colleagues analyzing a clinical database that contained all incidents of intimate-partner violence reported to the United States Air Force’s Family Advocacy Program. The study also found that incidents increased on weekends relative to weekdays. Further, the three individual dates with the most incidents were New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Super Bowl Sunday.

We also examined whether the offenders used alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the incidents. Unsurprisingly, intimate-partner violence with an offender who used alcohol/drugs were especially likely to occur on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Incidents that involved an offender who used alcohol/drugs also were disproportionately likely to occur on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day.

So, despite several differences in these databases—including the way in which data were gathered, the time periods, and geography covered—some consistent findings emerged: Intimate-partner violence increases on major holidays and on weekend days.

Why? The authors of these articles have explained these patterns using “Routine Activities Theory” (Cohen & Felson, 1979). This theory posits that people have routine daily activities: They get up at roughly the same time, go through their morning routine, go to work at roughly the same time, come home from work at about the same time, etc. Thus, on these “routine” days people interact with their intimate partners in “routine” ways.

In comparison, days such as weekends and holidays would be considered “non-routine” days because people’s routine activities are altered. For example, people may have the day off of work, they may attend festivals or parties, their children may be off of school, they may be more likely to consume alcohol, and they may get to spend more time with their intimate partner.

According to the theory, the confluence of these factors on non-routine days is believed to increase the likelihood that intimate-partner violence will occur.

Studies such as these are important. The more we can understand about contributing factors, the better we can develop interventions aimed at minimizing intimate-partner violence.  

Randy McCarthy is a researcher at Northern Illinois University’s Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault. He studies social cognition, aggression, and family maltreatment within military families.


Cohen, L. E., & Felson, M. (1979). Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American sociological review, 44, 588-608.

Cohn, E. G., & Rotton, J. (2003). Even criminals take a holiday: Instrumental and expressive crimes on major and minor holidays. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31, 351-360.

McCarthy, R. J., Rabenhorst, M. M., Milner, J. S., Travis, W. J., & Collins, P. S. (2014). What difference does a day make? Examining temporal variations in partner maltreatment. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 421-428.

Vazquez, S. P., Stohr, M. K., & Purkiss, M. (2005). Intimate partner violence incidence and characteristics: Idaho NIBRS 1995 to 2001 data. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 16, 99-114.