According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), intimate partner violence is a significant problem, and it affects millions of Americans. It can take various forms and have serious negative consequences for victims and their families.
While such violence has the potential to be devastating for families, it is preventable. Here, learn what IPV is, risk and protective factors, and strategies for preventing and responding to IPV.
What is intimate partner violence (IPV)?
Before learning about prevention, it is important to learn what is IPV or intimate partner violence.
The CDC describes intimate partner violence as sexual abuse, physical abuse, stalking, or psychological abuse perpetrated by a person’s current or former spouse or partner. It can happen in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.
It includes physical abuse in marriage as well as other abusive behaviors like intimate partner sexual violence. Sometimes, there is a misconception that IPV has to include physical or sexual abuse, but emotional and psychological abuse also falls under the category of IPV.
Even if a partner never acts out physically or sexually against a victim, such violence can occur in the form of emotional or psychological violence.
Sometimes people differentiate between intimate partner violence vs. domestic violence.
These two terms are often used interchangeably, but sometimes people reserve the phrase domestic violence to refer to violence against any family or household member, including a parent, child, or spouse.
On the other hand, the intimate partner violence definition includes violence against a spouse or romantic partner only.
Who experiences IPV?
According to experts, intimate partner violence statistics show that this problem can affect anyone. Most victims are women, but IPV can affect people of all cultures, races, income levels, and religions.
While women tend to be more likely to be victims of IPV, men can also be victims of such violence. In addition, IPV affects children, as 1 in 15 children witness it each year in the United States.
While IPV can happen to anyone, data suggests that it is more common among bisexual women. According to research, 61% of bisexual women have been affected by IPV, compared to 37% of bisexual men, 35% of heterosexual women, and 29% of heterosexual men.
Black women are the most likely to be affected by IPV, with 45% experiencing it, compared to 37% of White women, 34% of Hispanic women, and 18% of Asian women.
There are different types of abuse in relationships that fall under the definition. These include:
Physical Violence: Examples included bruises or black eyes from being hit, kicked, punched, or slapped by an intimate partner.
Emotional/Psychological Violence: This includes intentional insults and humiliation to a partner. It can also be the act of using threats or intimidation to instill fear in a partner.
Financial Violence: When a partner controls all the finances and does not allow the other person in the relationship to access money, this constitutes financial violence. Financial violence can also include a partner refusing to let the other person have a job, so that person becomes financially dependent and cannot leave the relationship.
Sexual Violence: Sexual violence can include a variety of abusive behaviors, such as sexual harassment, unwanted touching, and rape. A partner who is sexually violent may also control a person’s reproductive choices, such as by preventing them from using birth control.
Phases of IPV
Another component of understanding intimate partner abuse is recognizing that there is a cycle of intimate partner violence. This means that there are distinct phases of IPV.
Phase I: Tension-building stage
During the tension-building stage, an abusive partner begins to experience stress from issues like family conflict, work problems, or illness. This causes feelings of frustration to build, and the person begins to feel angry and powerless.
During this stage, an IPV victim will likely recognize the partner’s distress, become anxious, and take steps to reduce the tension.
Phase II: Abuse stage
Next, the abusive partner moves into the phase of abuse or violence, in which he or she engages in an abusive act, such as a physical attack, sexual violence, threats to harm the partner or name-calling.
Phase III: Reconciliation stage
Following the incident of abuse, the abuser attempts to reconcile and may offer a gift or use loving gestures to move forward from the abuse. Sometimes, this is also called the “honeymoon stage.”
Phase IV: Calm stage
Afterward comes the final stage, which is a calm period. The abuser may make excuses for the behavior or blame someone else while promising never to act in an abusive fashion again. Unfortunately, tension builds again, and the cycle repeats itself.
The abusive partner controls and monitors the other partner’s time, such as determining where they are allowed to go and checking on their whereabouts.
One partner controls the finances in the relationship and does not allow the other person to access money.
The abusive partner is verbally aggressive, such as by name-calling, making threats, or swearing and screaming at the other person.
One partner may isolate the other person from other people, such as by limiting their use of the phone or forbidding them from visiting with friends and family.
The abusive partner blames problems and abusive behavior on the other person and refuses to listen to their partner’s feelings.
A person forces their partner to have sex, even when the partner does not want to do so.
As previously mentioned, IPV also occurs in phases, so you may also notice a pattern of abuse, in which your partner becomes agitated, acts out violently, tries to reconcile, and then is calm before the next incident of agitation and violence.
Is IPV common?
The following Intimate partner violence statistics provide some baseline information about the prevalence of IPV domestic violence:
During their lives, ⅓ of women and ¼ of men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
IPV is responsible for 15% of violent crimes.
Almost half of both men and women in the United States report they have been psychologically abused by an intimate partner.
During their lives, one out of seven women and one out of 18 men will be stalked by a partner.
Around ⅕ of women and one out of 59 men in the United States will be raped during their lifetimes, with half of women and ⅓ of men who are raped reporting that the perpetrator was an intimate partner.
The data shows that various types of intimate partner violence are, unfortunately, relatively common.
Early intervention plays an important role in violence prevention. This means that people who are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of domestic violence should receive education about the risks and consequences of IPV.
It is also important for healthcare providers and mental health professionals to screen for domestic violence to identify those who may be in need of support.
Financial security can also be part of an intimate partner violence prevention plan. When people are unemployed or lacking in financial resources, they may become easier targets for abusive partners.
A victim who does not have the ability to support themselves financially may become dependent upon an abuser and more likely to tolerate abuse. Programs and supports that help people to achieve financial stability are therefore an important component of preventing violence.
Remember that women can also abuse men, but the answer to this question is that there are various intimate partner violence risk factors.
These risk factors can be divided into multiple categories that make a person more likely to be a perpetrator of IPV:
Individual Risk Factors
Low self-esteem, low intelligence level, low income, a history of juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and suicidal behavior, anger problems, poor impulse control, borderline or antisocial personality, social isolation, unemployment, belief in strict gender norms, desire to have power or control over a partner, and a history of being a victim of child abuse; all increase a person’s risk of becoming an IPV perpetrator.
Conflict within a relationship, divorce and separation, jealousy and possessiveness within a relationship, unhealthy family interactions, one partner exerting dominance over the other, financial stress, and association with aggressive friends are all risk factors.
Poverty within a community, poor social interactions and connections within the community, high prevalence of alcohol sales, and the unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in cases of violence are community-related risk factors.
Just as there are intimate partner violence risk factors, there are also factors that can prevent IPV. People sometimes ask, “What is the relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) and marriage?” and the answer is that marriage can be protective against IPV, especially if the marriage is stable.
In fact, a recent study found that over 80% of IPV incidents reported to police involve unmarried couples. Furthermore, people who are dating but not married are more likely to cause injury to their victims and to be arrested.
That being said, marriage can be protective against such a violence. Other protective factors include:
Relationship Factors: High-quality friendships and available social support, such as neighbors willing to provide support
Community Factors: Sense of connectedness in the neighborhood and strong coordination among community service/resource providers
People often wonder why such victims do not leave their abusive partners.
There are several reasons for this. Keep in mind that the cycle of intimate partner violence involves calm periods, during which the violent partner promises to change and makes excuses for violent behavior.
A victim may stay in the relationship because they believe the partner really will change. Victims may also love their partners and want to stay with them, so they justify the violence.
Partners may also stay in violent relationships because the abuser may threaten self-harm or threaten to harm the victim if the victim leaves the relationship. Victims may be fearful of leaving their partners.
An abusive partner can also make it difficult for a person to leave by isolating them from friends and family and monitoring their activities and whereabouts.
Finances are another reason people may refrain from leaving violent partners.
If the abusive partner controls household finances or prevents the victim from working, the victim will become dependent on the abuser and will not be able to afford housing, food, and necessities on their own.
The abuser may also threaten to take the children away from the victim if she leaves, which can cause a victim to remain in the relationship.
Finally, victims may stay because they are ashamed to admit they have suffered from IPV. They may feel that they will be blamed if they admit they have been a victim of IPV, or they may worry that the abuser’s reputation will suffer if they end the relationship because of violence.
For example, the abusive partner may be a respected professional within the community, and the victim may feel guilty about tarnishing the abuser’s reputation or placing the abuser’s job in jeopardy.
In the video below, Leslie Morgan Steiner talks about why women tend to stay in the relationship and why it is important to break the cycle of silence.
Strategies for Preventing and Responding to IPV
IPV can have devastating consequences, but there are ways to prevent and manage it.
Prevention is one of the best strategies against intimate partner violence. This means providing children and teens with education on healthy relationships.
Couples would also benefit from learning healthy relationship skills, especially if they are at high risk of such a violence. Some people may grow up witnessing IPV and believe that this is a normal part of a relationship, but education can provide healthier perspectives.
Prevention can begin in early childhood with programs that promote positive parenting and prevent child abuse. Quality preschool programs can also teach children strong social skills and reduce the risk of future domestic violence.
Community-level prevention can also reduce the risk of IPV. When community members are trained in the signs of IPV and how to respond if they suspect or witness IPV, we can reduce the consequences of violence in relationships.
Beyond prevention, IPV treatment is necessary to support victims and reduce their risk of future harm. Intimate partner violence treatment can include services for victims, such as housing programs, legal assistance, and support groups. Shelters and financial support services can also be helpful.
Victims who are in immediate danger because of physical or sexual assault may require intervention from police or a hospital emergency department.
Intimate partner violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status, and it can have serious consequences, such as physical health problems, depression, and job loss.
People may stay in violent relationships out of fear, love, or financial necessity, but there are ways to stop violence and the consequences that come with it. Through education and support programs, it is possible to reduce its effects.
Those who are victims can reach out to local support services, such as domestic violence shelters.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger from IPV, call 9-11. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available at 1-800-799-7233 to provide victims with support and linkage to resources.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.