Key Terms and FAQs
The following questions and answers are meant to provide information about the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS).
Five types of IPV are measured in NISVS. These include sexual violence, stalking, physical violence, psychological aggression, and control of reproductive/sexual health.
- Sexual violence includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences. Contact sexual violence (SV) 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.
- Control of reproductive or sexual health includes the refusal by an intimate partner to use a condom. For a woman, it also includes times when a partner tried to get her pregnant when she did not want to become pregnant. For a man, it also includes times when a partner tried to get pregnant when the man did not want her to become pregnant.
In NISVS, an intimate partner is described as a romantic or sexual partner and includes spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, people with whom they dated, were seeing, or “hooked up.”
Five types of sexual violence are measured in NISVS:
Rape is defined as any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent. Rape is separated into three types: completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, and completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration.
- Among women, rape includes vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes vaginal or anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.
- Among men, rape includes oral or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.
Being made to penetrate someone else includes times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.
- Among women, this behavior reflects a female being made to orally penetrate another female’s vagina or anus or another male’s anus.
- Among men, being made to penetrate someone else could have occurred in multiple ways: being made to vaginally penetrate a female using one’s own penis; orally penetrating a female’s vagina or anus; anally penetrating a male or female; or being made to receive oral sex from a male or female. It also includes male and female perpetrators attempting to force male victims to penetrate them, though it did not happen.
Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way. In NISVS, sexual coercion refers to unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sex after being pressured in ways that include being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, being told promises that were untrue, having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority.
Unwanted sexual contact is defined as unwanted sexual experiences involving touch but not sexual penetration, such as being kissed in a sexual way, or having sexual body parts fondled, groped, or grabbed.
Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences is defined as those unwanted experiences that do not involve any touching or penetration, including someone exposing their sexual body parts, flashing, or masturbating in front of the victim, someone making a victim show his or her body parts, someone making a victim look at or participate in sexual photos or movies, or someone harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.
Contact sexual violence (Contact SV) is a combined measure that includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.
Stalking involves a perpetrator’s use of a pattern of harassing or threatening tactics that are both unwanted and cause fear or safety concerns. For NISVS, a person was considered a stalking victim if they experienced any of the stalking tactics on more than one occasion and by the same perpetrator and felt fearful, threatened, or concerned for their safety or the safety of others as a result of the perpetrator’s behavior.
Stalking tactics measured:
- Unwanted following and watching of the victim
- Unwanted approaching or showing up in places, such as the victim’s home, workplace, or school
- Unwanted use of global positioning system (GPS) technology to monitor or track the victim’s location
- Leaving strange or potentially threatening items for the victim to find
- Sneaking into the victim’s home or car and doing things to scare the victim or let the victim know the perpetrator had been there
- Use of technology (e.g., hidden camera, recorder, computer software) to spy on the victim from a distance
- Unwanted phone calls, including hang-ups and voice messages
- Unwanted texts, emails, social media, or photos messages
- Unwanted cards, letters, flowers, or presents
In follow-up questions, respondents who experienced any of the above tactics on more than one occasion by the same perpetrator were asked whether the perpetrator did the following:
- Made them feel fearful, threatened, or concerned for their safety or the safety of others
- Made threats of physical harm
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) NISVS assesses experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence (SV), and stalking among adult women and men in the United States.
NISVS is the first survey that:
- Regularly monitors IPV, SV, and stalking in a public health context
- Reports on experiences of IPV, SV, and stalking over a lifetime and in the past 12-months
- Provides data on IPV, SV, and stalking at the national and state levels
- Examines associated health impacts of IPV, SV, and stalking
- Reports on age of first victimization of IPV, SV, and stalking
With the ultimate goal of stopping violence before it occurs, the CDC developed NISVS to better describe and monitor the magnitude of IPV, SV, and stalking in the United States. Timely and reliable data on these forms of violence can be used to inform policies and programs, establish priorities at the national, state, and local levels, and, over time, to track progress in preventing these forms of violence.
NISVS data are used to:
- Help plan and prioritize violence prevention and response efforts at the national, state, and local levels
- Educate communities about the prevalence and characteristics of IPV, SV, and stalking victimization
- Inform policies, programs, and practices for violence prevention and response initiatives
- Guide and evaluate progress at the state level toward the reduction of these forms of violence
NISVS asks questions about IPV, SV, and stalking using a health frame and asking several behaviorally specific questions to help maximize reliable reporting of these important public health issues. NISVS collects lifetime and 12-month prevalence data, describes who is most likely to experience these forms for violence, as well as information on the patterns, impacts and health consequences associated with these types of violence. NISVS also collects information on the age at the time of the first victimization and characteristics of both victims and perpetrators. NISVS data inform and improve prevention and response efforts.
NISVS is an ongoing, random digit dial telephone survey conducted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data are collected throughout the year. To ensure cell phone-only households are included in the sample, interviews are conducted both by landline and cell phone.
The survey is designed to be consistent with the way victims recall experiences of violence—all behaviors are linked to a specific perpetrator and all questions are asked within the context of that perpetrator. In this way, NISVS is able to measure the following:
- Patterns of violence, including:
- the forms of violence experienced by a specific perpetrator;
- whether multiple forms of violence were experienced;
- severity of violence;
- duration of the victimization; and
- frequency of the victimization.
- The impact of violence by each perpetrator such as being fearful or needing medical care.
NISVS relies on self-reported data. Despite efforts to make respondents feel comfortable and safe, it is possible that some victims are unable or unwilling to talk to an interviewer. Other victims, particularly those who were victimized a long time ago, may not remember some experiences.
Although NISVS includes a large sample size, in some cases statistically reliable estimates for all forms of violence among all populations and sub-populations are not able to be calculated from annual data.
Understanding the magnitude, impact, and consequences of IPV, SV, and stalking in the United States is an important first step in preventing violence. This information can be used to:
- Inform policies and programs that are aimed at preventing these forms of violence, such as approaches that promote healthy, respectful relationships;
- Provide information for states to consider in their prevention planning and advocacy efforts, such as ensuring adequate access to services and resources; and
- Establish priorities for preventing these forms of violence at the national, state, and local levels.
As CDC collects more years of data, NISVS data can also can be used to examine trends in IPV, SV, and stalking, as well as to evaluate and track the effectiveness of prevention efforts.
CDC focuses on preventing IPV, SV, and stalking before it happens. CDC’s work focuses on three areas:
- understanding the problem—NISVS is a key component of this work,
- identifying effective interventions, and
- ensuring that states and communities have the capacity and resources to implement prevention approaches based on the best available evidence.
For more information about CDC violence prevention efforts, visit www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention.
The survey asks questions to assess stalking, SV and IPV over the lifetime and 12 months prior to the interview. Respondents are asked about specific behaviors instead of the use of general terms like “abuse” or “rape” that might have different meanings to different people or be stigmatizing. For example, physical violence measures include slapping, kicking and choking. Stalking is assessed with questions such as asking if someone has been followed.
Summary reports from NISVS present data on the national prevalence of IPV, SV, and stalking among women and men in the United States. The ongoing NISVS survey provides data that will be used to track IPV, SV, and stalking trends over time.
Special reports provide additional methodological information or in-depth analyses on a specific topic to help readers understand and interpret NISVS data.
CDC anticipates releasing each report as soon as it is available and finalized, starting in early 2022.
We urge readers and users to exercise caution when comparing estimates to previous NISVS years. As we continue to refine NISVS, there are some differences in the NISVS survey instruments across the existing data years, which could impact the prevalence estimates.
NISVS relies on self-reported data. NISVS captures extensive sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization experiences, the estimates from this survey are likely underestimates of the true prevalence because not all behaviors are measured. Also, despite efforts to make respondents feel comfortable and safe, it is possible that some victims are unable or unwilling to talk to an interviewer. Other victims, particularly those victimized a long time ago, may not remember some experiences. The survey was designed to reach noninstitutionalized adults with a landline or cell phone who speak English or Spanish. As such, NISVS estimates do not include certain subgroups of the population, including people experiencing homelessness and those who have been institutionalized.
Additionally, as with other random-digit-dial telephone surveys conducted during the same time response rates declined rapidly. However, several efforts were made to mitigate the potential for non-response bias and noncoverage bias and to maximize respondent safety. Additional information is provided in the NISVS methodology report pdf icon[872 KB, 28 Pages].