The Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) is a widely-used method of identifying intimate partners maltreatment, with a version for the identifying of child maltreatment.
Created in 1979 by Murray A. Straus, the CTS has since been widely used by scientists and scholars. As of 2000, the CTS has been used in over 70,000 empirical studies and about 400 peer reviewed scientific or scholarly papers, including longitudinal birth-cohort studies; at least ten books reporting results based on the CTS were published.
- In 1979, Straus created a measure, the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) which lit a fire to the domestic violence field. The CTS was revolutionary because it allowed researchers to quantitatively study events that had often been ignored culturally and typically took place in private.
The CTS has been used in national surveys on the prevalence of family violence in the USA, and has been widely used in other countries. Other notable uses include the two National Family Violence Surveys (Straus & Gelles, 1990), the National Violence Against Women Survey (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000), and the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being.
Structure and revisions
The scales are based on the premise that conflict is an inevitable aspect of all human association, but that the use of coercion (including force and violence) as a conflict-resolution tactic is harmful. The CTS focuses on "conflict tactics" - the method used to advance one's own interest.
The CTS is oriented towards behaviours, not attitudes, and seeks to measures the behavior of both the respondent and their partner.
Administration of the CTS can be by in-person interview, telephone interview, self-administered questionnaire, and computer-administered questionnaire.
Revised Conflict Tactics Scale
As of 2000, the CTS2 measured a total of 39 behaviors, each dubbed an "item," in five different categories. There are 6 items in "reasoning and negotiation;" 8 items in "psychological aggression;" 12 items in "physical assault;" 7 items in "sexual coercion;" and 6 items in "consequence (physical injury)." Items are categorized as either mild or severe; e.g., mild physical assaults include "restraining physically" to "threatening with a knife/weapon" while severe physical assaults include "beating up" and "choking/asphyxiating". Items are asked of both the respondents and the partner's behavior.
The frequency of each item is rated on an eight-point scale, "never, once, twice, 3-5 times, 6-10 times, 11-20 times, more than 20 times, or not in the past year but [the item] did happen before)."
The CTSPC (parent-child relationships) has scales to measure;
- physical assault (with subscales for corporal punishment and physical abuse)
- psychological aggression
- non-violent discipline techniques
with supplementary questions on neglect, sexual abuse, and discipline in the past week.
Critics of the CTS  argue that the scales do not provide information about the context in which items occur (including the initiation, intention, history, or pattern of violence) and therefore may misrepresent the characteristics of violence between partners. The CTS does not measure economic abuse, manipulation involving children, isolation, or intimidation - all common measures of violence from a victim-advocacy perspective. Moreover, response bias may occur and CTS does not factor in the cases of nonrespondents. These elements are typically difficult to measure but nevertheless important to understanding violence
The designers of the CTS note that the revised version adjusts for variables and shortcomings in the first version, and additionally argue that the most frequent and severe criticism of the CTS reflect ideological differences rather than empirical evidence:
- [M]any feminist scholars reject the CTS because studies using this instrument find that about the same percentage of women as men assault their partners. This contradicts the feminist theory that partner violence is almost exclusively committed by men as a means to dominate women, and is therefore prima facie evidence that the CTS is not valid.
Methodological issues with the CTS include the fact that its interobserver reliability (the likelihood that the two members of the measured dyad respond similarly) is near zero for tested husband and wife couples - that is, the chances of given couple giving similar answers about events they both observed is no greater than chance. On the most severe CTS items, husband-wife agreement is actually below chance:
- On the item "beat up," concordance was nil: although there were respondents of both sexes who claimed to have administered beatings and respondents of both sexes who claimed to have been on the receiving end, there was not a single couple in which one party claimed to have administered and the other to have received such a beating.
Additionally, the designers of the CTS agree that context and other variables are important in studying any phenomenon, but insist that such variables must be "measured separately from the behavior they presumably cause to be able to test theories about context effects." Additionally, the designers of the CTS suggest that such context-based criticism is logically flawed, being "analogous to declaring a reading ability test invalid because it does not provide data on why a child reads poorly (such as limited exposure to books at home or test anxiety), or for not measuring the harmful effects of reading difficulty (such as low self-esteem or dropping out of school)."
- Straus, Murray A. (1979). "Measuring intra family conflict and violence: The Conflict Tactics Scale". Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, pp. 75-88.
- Ron Acierno, Ph.D. 2000. "Screening Measures for Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Physical Assault." National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center Medical University of South Carolina.
- Findings About Partner Violence From the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, Research in Brief NCJ 170018, July 1999, Research in Brief, by Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom E. Caspi 
- Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. (2005). Top 10 greatest "hits" important findings and future directions for intimate partner violence research. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(1), 108-118.
- Acierno, 2000
- Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, and Sugarman, 1996
- Michael Flood, Claims about Husband Battering at XYonline
- Dobash RP, Dobash RE, Wilson M, Daly M, 1992. "The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence." Social Problems 39: 71-91.
- Straus, M. A., & Gelles, R. J. (1990). Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publications.
- Straus, M.A., Hamby, S.L., Boney-McCoy, S., Sugarman, D.B. (1996). The revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17(3): 283-316.
- Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the national violence against women survey (No. NCJ 183781). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.