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4.8: Intimate Partner Violence

  • Page ID
    11708
  • Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) Couple

    Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.

    The goal is to stop IPV before it begins. There is a lot to learn about how to prevent IPV. We do know that strategies that promote healthy behaviors in relationships are important. Programs that teach young people skills for dating can prevent violence. These programs can stop violence in dating relationships before it occurs. IPV can vary in frequency and severity. It occurs on a continuum, ranging from one episode that might or might not have lasting impact to chronic and severe episodes over a period of years. There are four main types of IPV:

    1. Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm. Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, scratching; pushing; shoving; throwing; grabbing; biting; choking; shaking; aggressive hair pulling; slapping; punching; hitting; burning; use of a weapon; and use of restraints or one’s body, size, or strength against another person.  Physical violence also includes coercing other people to commit any of the above acts.
    2. Sexual violence is divided into five categories.  Any of these acts constitute sexual violence, whether attempted or completed.  Additionally all of these acts occur without the victim’s freely given consent, including cases in which the victim is unable to consent due to being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs. 
      1. Rape or penetration of victim – This includes completed or attempted, forced or alcohol/drug-facilitated unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal insertion.  Forced penetration occurs through the perpetrator’s use of physical force against the victim or threats to physically harm the victim. 
      2. Victim was made to penetrate someone else – This includes completed or attempted, forced or alcohol/drug-facilitated incidents when the victim was made to sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent. 
      3. Non-physically pressured unwanted penetration – This includes incidents in which the victim was pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce to being penetrated. 
      4. Unwanted sexual contact – This includes intentional touching of the victim or making the victim touch the perpetrator, either directly or through the clothing, on the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks without the victim’s consent 
      5. Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences – This includes unwanted sexual events that are not of a physical nature that occur without the victim’s consent.  Examples include unwanted exposure to sexual situations (e.g., pornography); verbal or behavioral sexual harassment; threats of sexual violence to accomplish some other end; and /or unwanted filming, taking or disseminating photographs of a sexual nature of another person.
    3. Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted, attention and contact that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone else (e.g., family member or friend).  Some examples include repeated, unwanted phone calls, emails, or texts; leaving cards, letters, flowers, or other items when the victim does not want them; watching or following from a distance; spying; approaching or showing up in places when the victim does not want to see them; sneaking into the victim’s home or car; damaging the victim’s personal property; harming or threatening the victim’s pet; and making threats to physically harm the victim.
    4. Psychological Aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally, and/or to exert control over another person.  Psychological aggression can include expressive aggression (e.g., namecalling, humiliating); coercive control (e.g., limiting access to transportation, money, friends, and family; excessive monitoring of whereabouts); threats of physical or sexual violence; control of reproductive or sexual health (e.g., refusal to use birth control; coerced pregnancy termination); exploitation of victim’s vulnerability (e.g., immigration status, disability); exploitation of perpetrator’s vulnerability; and presenting false information to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory or perception (e.g., mind games).

    Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence

    Persons with certain risk factors are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). Those risk factors contribute to IPV but might not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as “at risk” becomes involved in violence. A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming an IPV perpetrator or victim. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

    Individual Risk Factors

    • Low self-esteem
    • Low income
    • Low academic achievement
    • Young age
    • Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
    • Heavy alcohol and drug use
    • Depression
    • Anger and hostility
    • Antisocial personality traits
    • Borderline personality traits
    • Prior history of being physically abusive
    • Having few friends and being isolated from other people
    • Unemployment
    • Emotional dependence and insecurity
    • Belief in strict gender roles (e.g., male dominance and aggression in relationships)
    • Desire for power and control in relationships
    • Perpetrating psychological aggression
    • Seeing or being a victim of physical or psychological abuse (consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration)
    • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
    • History of experiencing physical discipline as a child

    Relationship Factors

    • Marital conflict-fights, tension, and other struggles
    • Marital instability-divorces or separations
    • Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other
    • Economic stress
    • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions

    Community Factors

    • Poverty and associated factors (e.g., overcrowding)
    • Low social capital-lack of institutions, relationships, and norms that shape a community’s social interactions
    • Weak community sanctions against IPV (e.g., unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence)

    Societal Factors

    • Traditional gender norms (e.g., women should stay at home, not enter workforce, and be submissive; men support the family and make the decisions)

    Protecting Yourself from Relationship Violence

    It can be hard to know if your relationship is headed down the wrong path. While it’s not always possible to prevent relationship violence, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

    If you think your partner might be controlling or abusive, it’s important to:

    • Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t seem right, take it seriously.
    • Learn the warning signs of someone who might become controlling or violent.
    • Get help. Talk to experts in relationship violence.

    If your partner is controlling or abusive, it’s better to get help now than to wait. Controlling or violent relationships usually get worse over time.

    Remember: if your partner hurts you, it’s not your fault.

    What is relationship violence?

    Relationship violence is when one person in a relationship is abusive or controlling toward the other person – especially when they disagree about something.

    Relationship violence is sometimes called dating violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. In some relationships, both partners act in abusive or controlling ways. When many people think about relationship violence, they think about physical violence, like hitting or pushing. But people can also use other methods, like threats or insults, to control their partners.

    Relationship violence can include:

    • Physical violence, like pushing, hitting, or throwing things
    • Sexual violence, like forcing or trying to force someone to do something sexual
    • Threats of physical or sexual violence, which may include threatening to hurt another person or a pet
    • Emotional abuse, like embarrassing a partner or keeping that person away from family and friends

    If you feel controlled by or afraid of your partner – even if you haven’t been hurt physically – trust yourself. There are people who can help you figure out what to do next.

    How do I know if my relationship might become violent?

    Relationship violence can start slowly and be hard to recognize at first. For example, when people first start dating, it’s common to want to spend a lot of time together. But spending less time with other people can also be a sign that your partner is trying to control your time.

    Try asking yourself these questions:

    • Does my partner respect me?
    • Does my partner blame me for everything that goes wrong?
    • Does my partner make most of the decisions in our relationship?
    • Am I ever afraid to tell my partner something?
    • Do I ever feel forced to do things that I don’t want to do?
    • Have I ever done anything sexual with my partner when I didn’t want to?
    • Does my partner promise to change and then keep doing the same things?

    What if I’m not sure if my relationship is violent?

    It’s okay if you aren’t sure – you can still get help. Domestic violence agencies have counselors who are experts at helping people with questions about their relationships. You don’t even have to give your name.

    If you have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or chat online with a trained advocate.

    If you are in danger right now, call 911.

    Take Action!

    If you think your partner is controlling or abusive, take steps to protect yourself.

    Trust your instincts.

    You are the expert on your life and relationships. If you think your relationship is unhealthy or you are worried about your safety, trust your gut.

    Plan for your safety.

    If you are in a relationship with someone who is violent or might become violent, make a plan to keep yourself safe. This is important whether you are planning to leave your partner or not.

    Start with a phone call.

    If you need help or have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). You’ll be able to find a domestic violence agency near you or talk to a counselor over the phone. If you are in danger right now, call 911.

    What kind of help can I get?

    Domestic violence agencies provide:

    • Emotional support
    • Safety planning
    • A safe place to stay in an emergency
    • Legal help
    • Help with housing

    What about cost?

    Domestic violence agencies offer free services, like hotlines, counseling, and help finding resources such as housing or lawyers.

    Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships

    Sometimes a relationship might not be abusive, but it might have some serious problems that make it unhealthy. If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, you should be able to talk to your partner about your concerns. If you feel like you can't talk to your partner, try talking to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Consider calling a confidential hotline to get the support you need and to explore next steps. If you're afraid to end the relationship, call a hotline for help (1-800-799-SAFE).

    Signs of an unhealthy relationship include:

    • Focusing all your energy on your partner
    • Dropping friends and family or activities you enjoy
    • Feeling pressured or controlled a lot
    • Having more bad times in the relationship than good
    • Feeling sad or scared when with your partner

    Signs of a healthy relationship include:

    • Having more good times in the relationship than bad
    • Having a life outside the relationship, with your own friends and activities
    • Making decisions together, with each partner compromising at times
    • Dealing with conflicts by talking honestly
    • Feeling comfortable and able to be yourself
    • Feeling able to take care of yourself
    • Feeling like your partner supports you

    If you feel confused about your relationship, a mental health professional can help.

    Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect.