Intimate Partner Violence: Definitions

The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner.

An intimate partner is a person with whom one has a close personal relationship that can be characterized by the following:

  • Emotional connectedness
  • Regular contact
  • Ongoing physical contact and/or sexual behavior
  • Identity as a couple
  • Familiarity and knowledge about each other’s lives

The relationship need not involve all of these dimensions. Examples of intimate partners include current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, dating partners, or sexual partners. IPV can occur between heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.

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. These include sexual violence, stalking, physical violence, and psychological aggression.

  • Sexual violence: includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion (non-physically pressured sex), unwanted sexual contact (such as groping), and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences (such as verbal harassment). Contact sexual violence is a combined measure that includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.
  • 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.
  • Physical violence includes a range of behaviors from slapping, pushing or shoving to severe acts that include hit with a fist or something hard, kicked, hurt by pulling hair, slammed against something, tried to hurt by choking or suffocating, beaten, burned on purpose, used a knife or gun.
  • Psychological Aggression: includes expressive aggression (such as name calling, insulting or humiliating an intimate partner) and coercive control, which includes behaviors that are intended to monitor and control or threaten an intimate partner.

The use of a standard case definition is one key factor needed to ensure that information is collected in a systematic fashion. A high quality case definition improves the comparability of the health-related event reported from different sources of data, such as comparisons among geographic areas, or the ability to compare data over time. Further, a consistent definition is critical in monitoring trends over time.

 

See Intimate Partner Violence Resources for articles and publications about the definitions of intimate partner violence. 

Page last reviewed: October 23, 2018