A key assumption in the domestic violence literature is that abuse escalates in severity and frequency over time. However, very little is known about how violence and abuse unfolds within intimate relationships and there is no consensus on how escalation should be defined or how prevalent it is.
A narrative review of the literature identified two primary definitions of escalation: a pattern of increasingly frequent and/or severe violent incidents, or the occurrence of specific violent acts (ie outcomes). Escalation appears to be limited to serious or prolific offenders rather than characterising all abusive relationships. However, disparities in prevalence estimates between those provided by victim–survivors and recorded incident data highlight the difficulty of measuring this aspect of abusive relationships.