The Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships: Understanding Power and Control Tactics Among College Students

J Interpers Violence. 2022 Nov;37(21-22):NP19522-NP19548. doi: 10.1177/08862605211042816. Epub 2021 Sep 4.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health problem among college students and many students have difficulty identifying unhealthy and abusive behaviors. The aims of this mixed methods study are to: (a) create an inclusive tool that illustrates the power and control experiences of a diverse group of young adult college students, (b) ensure a broad scope of tactics are illustrated (related to technology and different types of relationships), and (c) measure the experience of these tactics, including how IPV knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy are influenced by a more inclusive tool. In Phase I, semi-structured interviews were conducted with students (n = 33) and staff (n = 10) at campus sexual assault centers at the three University of Michigan (UM) campuses to explore power and control tactics utilized by perpetrators on college campuses. Content analysis revealed 13 categories of tactics in college relationships. A draft tool was created and assessed for accuracy using cognitive interviews with students (n = 20) from all three campuses in Phase II. Cognitive interviews resulted in the following changes to the final tool: (a) new presentation of the Socioecological Model, (b) identification of substance use as a facilitator for multiple forms of violence, and (c) edits to tactic descriptions. In Phase III, 250 students at UM-Ann Arbor participated in a quasi-experimental evaluation in which 133 interacted with the tool and 117 received access to usual care (campus sexual misconduct policy). Both groups answered survey questions about IPV knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and experiences at baseline, and after one month and five months. Among all college participants in Phase III, 33.5% had experienced lifetime IPV and 25.2% had experienced IPV in the past year. There were no significant differences among IPV knowledge, attitudes, or self-efficacy by group. The Dynamics of Interpersonal Coercion Among College Students tool was created by incorporating current tactics utilized among a diverse college population.

Keywords: cultural contexts; dating violence; perceptions of domestic violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Intimate Partner Violence* / psychology
  • Sex Offenses* / psychology
  • Students / psychology
  • Universities
  • Young Adult