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Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence

What's the Problem?

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a substantial public health problem that affects millions of Americans.IPV has serious consequences and costs for individuals, families, communities, and society.

Intimate partners include current and former spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, or dating partners (including heterosexual or same-sex partners). The term "intimate partner violence" describes physical, sexual, stalking or psychological/emotional harm (including coercive tactics) by a current or former intimate partner or spouse. It includes threatened physical or sexual violence when the threat is used to control a person's actions.

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  • Sexual violence is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent, including rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences
  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
  • Stalking victimization involves a pattern of harassing or threatening tactics used by a perpetrator that is both unwanted and causes fear or safety concerns in the victim.
  • Psychological/emotional aggression includes threatening a partner or his or her possessions or loved ones, harming a partner’s sense of self-worth, and monitoring and controlling a partner. Examples are name calling, insulting or humiliating an intimate partner, intimidation, or not letting a partner see friends and family.
  • Control of reproductive or sexual health includes the refusal by an intimate partner to use a condom or attempting to impregnate or conceive a child with a partner who does not want to conceive.

IPV exists along a continuum from a single episode of violence to ongoing battering. Incidents of IPV can vary in frequency and severity. Often, IPV starts with emotional abuse and can progress to physical or sexual assault. Several types of IPV may occur together.

Common terms used to describe IPV are domestic abuse, spousal abuse, domestic violence, dating violence, battering, marital rape, and date rape.

IPV can affect health in many ways. The longer the violence goes on, the more serious the effects. Victims can suffer physical injuries that can be minor (cuts, scratches, bruises, and welts) and very serious (broken bones, internal bleeding, head trauma, death). IPV can also cause emotional difficulties, trauma symptoms, and suicide. Victims may try to cope with their trauma in unhealthy ways, including smoking, drinking, and taking drugs.

Who's at Risk?

Both men and women are victims of IPV though women are more frequently the victims. Based on data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

  • On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States--more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.
  • About 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner (e.g., hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something) at some point in their lifetime.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 women (9.4%) has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and an estimated 16.9% of women and 8.0% of men have experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • Among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, 22.4% of women and 15.0% of men first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.

Teen dating violence is a form of IPV. Unhealthy relationships during adolescence are a risk factor for violence into future relationships. Approximately 9% of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months before surveyed.

Can It Be Prevented?

Like all forms of violence, IPV can be prevented though the solution is just as complex as the problem. Stopping IPV includes services for victims and perpetrators of IPV and their children in order to interrupt the violence and to support healing and safety. Because the goal is to prevent IPV before it starts, primary prevention activities are essential. Primary prevention efforts promote healthy, respectful, nonviolent relationship skills and behaviors. These efforts could include programs that teach young people healthy problem-solving and communication skills and change social norms about the acceptability of violence in order to prevent teen dating violence and future IPV during adulthood. Communities can help by coordinating violence prevention initiatives that strengthen safety networks and the implementation of prevention strategies for individuals and families. Research is inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of police arrest policies as a deterrent to IPV. Nonetheless, increased public awareness can inform the development of policies and interventions directed toward preventing IPV.

Tips for Scripts

  • SHOW viewers the dynamics of healthy relationships (communication, support, respect, honesty, free from violence and coercion). Characters that model healthy behavior can send a strong prevention message to viewers.
  • INFORM viewers that IPV can have broad effects and the psychological consequences can include depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, lowered self-esteem, alcohol and other drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • EDUCATE viewers that the emotional, physical, and economic consequences of IPV are substantial. The medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity (e.g., time away from work) cost of IPV is more than $8.3 billion each year. Female victims of severe IPV are more likely than male victims to need medical attention, take time off from work, spend more days in bed, and suffer more from stress and depression.
  • SHOW viewers that IPV is usually not a one-time event. It is often a pattern of behavior used to control another person and can include multiple forms of IPV.
  • REMIND viewers that preventing IPV is possible. When safe to do so, people can challenge people’s beliefs about the acceptability of violence and act when they see violence about to occur or happening.

Case Examples

  1. Several weeks into their blissful marriage, a young couple has their first argument. Their voices rise. The husband walks away instead of creating a volatile scene or using violence. The wife allows him some time to cool down. He returns an hour later and tells his wife that he wants to resolve his anger and hostility in a nonviolent manner.
  2. A young man, Jake, and woman, Sasha meet at a mutual friend’s dinner party. They start dating and spending much of their free time together. Jake begins to monitor Sasha through social media. He installs a map application on her mobile phone to track where she is, hacks into her Facebook to read her messages, and constantly sends text messages to her asking, “Where are you? Who are you with?” Sasha’s friends recognize that this is controlling behavior and warn her that these are elements of an abusive relationship.
  3. Jessica and Nicki have been living together for 3 years. Nicki is jealous of Jessica’s work friends and has become increasingly jealous and convinced that Jessica is cheating. She blames Jessica for being the cause of her jealousy. One evening, when Jessica is leaving the house for a night out with friends, Nicki hides her keys and refuses to let her leave the house. Fearing for her safety as the situation seemed to be escalating, Jessica calls the police.
  • Page last reviewed: February 8, 2011
  • Page last updated: August 1, 2013
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