Intimate partner violence (IPV), also called domestic violence, is generally described as abuse within the context of an intimate partner relationship, where one partner asserts power and control over the other.
The Practical Implications of Current Intimate Partner Violence Research for Victim Advocates and Service Providers report provided by the U.S Department of Justice identified the following seven types of abuse used to victimize intimate partners:
IPV is Physical Violence and Psychological Abuse
IPV is common. It affects millions of people in the United States each year. Data from CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence
- Survey (NISVS) indicate:
- About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact.
- Over 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
- 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have experienced physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.
IPV is Coercion and Controlling Behaviors
Power and control are “underlying factors” for Intimate Partner Violence. Controlling behaviors by men have been associated with a higher likelihood of both physical violence and sexual violence.
Studies suggest that controlling behavior itself can be as, or more, threatening than physical and sexual violence.
A revealing New York study of 600 women, aged 15 to 24, who were patients at a reproductive health center, found two-thirds experienced one or more episodes of controlling behavior. In almost half of the cases, the controlling behavior overlapped with physical and sexual victimization. Researchers concluded that controlling behavior is a risk factor for physical and sexual intimate partner violence.
The types of controlling behavior included the abusing partner:
- insisting on knowing the partner’s location at all times
- being angry if the woman spoke to another man
- being suspicious of infidelity
- attempting to keep the partner from seeing friends
- ignoring or treating partner indifferently
- restricting contact with her family
- expecting the partner to ask permission before seeking health care
IPV is Sexual Abuse and Rape
Between 43 and 55 percent of victims experiencing physical assaults by an intimate partner also experience sexual assaults by that partner. Psychological and emotional abuse commonly co-occurs with physical and sexual violence.
Early research on sexual violence against wives, not just those who experienced physical abuse, suggested that between 10 and 14 percent of married women were raped by their husbands.
Intimate partner sexual assaults often incorporate hurtful dimensions of degradation and humiliation. These sexual acts include:
- unwanted, nonconsensual, or coerced sex acts
- forced or denial of contraception and abortion
- sex after childbirth or during illness
- unwanted intercourse during menstruation
- sex during sleep
- sexual humiliation and degradation
- sexually proprietary behaviors (jealousy, nagging about sex, and accusations of infidelity)
- “make-up” sex following physical assault or perceived infidelity
- virginity and vaginal inspections
- commercial sexual exploitation of partners
- infibulation and other mutilation
- sex through trick, fraud, or misrepresentation
- sexual abuse by proxy or viewing/acting out pornography
- exposure of children to sexual acts
- economic support conditioned on sex
- nonconsensual sex with 3rd parties, animals, or objects
- and more
In a recent study of women victims of intimate partner violence who obtained protection orders, 25 to 30 percent reported that their abusers engaged in a wide range of sexual abuse, exploitation, and assault. Few made complaints to police or plead the sexual assault in protection orders.
IPV is: “Reproductive Coercion”
Practitioners and researchers have expanded their understanding of the types of abuse visited upon IPV victims. Researchers have recently documented that “reproductive coercion” is more common than previously thought, especially among younger women.
Reproductive coercion may also go a long way in explaining the underlying associations between adolescent partner abuse and pregnancy. A study of young abused women in California (aged 15 to 20 years old) found that a quarter reported that their male partners were actively trying to get them pregnant through reproductive coercion tactics.
Another study of young abused women in Boston’s poorest neighborhood found half reported their partners were “actively trying to get them pregnant by manipulating condom use, sabotaging birth control, or simply sweet-talking them.”
Reproductive coercion takes different forms, including a male partner:
- demanding unprotected sex
- sabotaging birth control
- threatening murder if his partner has an abortion
- anything from intimidation to rape
Another study of 71 women, ages 18-49, with a history of being victims of intimate abuse, documented that most experienced “male reproductive control,” including pregnancy-promoting behaviors and control/ abuse during pregnancy in an attempt to influence the pregnancy outcome.
IPV is Stalking
Observers often discount stalking because it may not include immediate physical assaults against victims, yet stalkers physically assaulted 22.1 percent of female and 7.4 percent of male intimates.
The highest rate of stalking is of intimate partners (28.1 percent) with former partners (20 percent) and current partners (8.1 percent) most likely to engage in stalking.
Stalking behaviors convey an implicit threat of violence and harm to victims that third parties may not identify as stalking or perceive the potential violence to victims posed by stalkers.
In terms of “unwanted contact,” the most frequent was the stalker approaching the victim in person (63 percent), followed by telephone contact (52 percent) and then letters, cards, or faxes (30 percent).
In addition to receiving unwanted phone calls, and letters or emails, stalking victims experienced high levels of four unwanted behaviors “most commonly associated with stalking:”
- spreading rumors about the victim (29.1 percent)
- following or spying on the victim (24.5 percent)
- showing up in places without a legitimate reason (22.4 percent)
- waiting outside (or inside) places for the victim (20.4 percent)
More than three-quarters of women reported receiving unwanted phone calls, including voice or text messages or hang-ups. More than half were approached and more than a third were watched, followed, or tracked.
Like abuse in general, not all stalking victims report their stalking to authorities. Women IPV stalking victims are at elevated risk for severe violence.
IPV is Economic Abuse
Virtually all perpetrators of IPV impose various tactics of economic abuse on their partners. Economic abuse by an intimate partner includes controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, manage, maintain, and dispose of economic resources.
A shelter study found that 99 percent of female victims indicated that they were subjected to one or more forms of economic abuse.
Tactics of economic abuse include, but are not limited to:
- prevention and disruption of education or employment
- interference with transportation
- failure to provide childcare
- compromise of housing
- deprivation of food and medicine
- interruption of sleep
- destruction of work clothes and/or job-related manuals
- disposal of assets
- theft of income
- denial of library or internet access
- commercial sexual exploitation
- limitation of communications with economic support networks
Many women victims of IPV suffer significant material deprivation as a consequence of economic abuse. Most low-income victims seeking domestic violence services report that abusive partners caused the material hardships they faced. In one study, three-quarters of battered women stated that the abuser was “very much or completely” responsible for the economic hardships they experienced.
This is not a low-income issue, however. Economic abuse can also affect victims in higher-income families as well. Perpetrators can limit victim access to assets, e.g., by refusing to include victims as co-owners of real estate, vehicles, or businesses, by denying access to cash, checking accounts, savings or investments, by confiscating victim earnings, by depriving access to insurance, by creating debt, or by theft or conversion of assets.
Without assets, victims cannot achieve financial stability or escape from their abusers or poverty.
IPV is Isolation
Isolation is a common element of IPV, although often overlooked in much IPV research. The research instrument most utilized in investigations of isolation, cited 600 times in the literature, contains a subscale on “dominance/isolation” that includes confinement, prohibition against social connections/supports, interruption of employment/education, surveillance, and restriction of access to resources.
Isolating victims may not rise to a criminal level except in kidnapping, hostage-taking, or false imprisonment. As a result, it is not often identified or charged by law enforcement.
What to do if You’re in Danger of IPV
Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is very common. You are not alone and there is no reason to be ashamed.
One in five homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. If you are experiencing IPV, please get help immediately.
If you or someone you know is in danger of IPV, call 911 immediately, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.