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Intimate Partner Violence

What is intimate partner violence (IVP)?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is abuse that occurs between two people in a close relationship. The term "intimate partner" includes current and former spouses and dating partners. IPV exists along a continuum from a single episode of violence to ongoing battering.

IPV includes four types of behavior:

  • Physical abuse is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, burning, or other physical force.
  • Sexual abuse is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.
  • Threats of physical or sexual abuse include the use of words, gestures, weapons, or other means to communicate the intent to cause harm.
  • Emotional abuse is threatening a partner or his or her possessions or loved ones, or harming a partner's sense of self-worth. Examples are stalking, name-calling, intimidation, or not letting a partner see friends and family.

Often, IPV starts with emotional abuse. This behavior can progress to physical or sexual assault. Several types of IPV may occur together.

Why is IPV a public health problem?

Many victims do not report IPV to police, friends, or family.1 Victims think others will not believe them and that the police cannot help.1

  • Each year, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes. Men are the victims of about 2.9 million intimate partner related physical assaults.1
  • IPV resulted in 1,544 deaths in 2004. Of these deaths, 25% were males and 75% were females.2
  • The cost of IPV was an estimated $5.8 billion in 1995. Updated to 2003 dollars, that's more than $8.3 billion.3,4 This cost includes medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity (e.g., time away from work).

How does IPV affect health?

IPV can affect health in many ways. The longer the abuse goes on, the more serious the effects on the victim.

Many victims suffer physical injuries. Some are minor like cuts, scratches, bruises, and welts. Others are more serious and can cause lasting disabilities. These include broken bones, internal bleeding, and head trauma.

Not all injuries are physical. IPV can also cause emotional harm. Victims often have low self-esteem. They may have a hard time trusting others and being in relationships. The anger and stress that victims feel may lead to eating disorders and depression. Some victims even think about or commit suicide.

IPV is linked to harmful health behaviors as well. Victims are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, use drugs, and engage in risky sexual activity.

What are some risk factors for IPV?

Several factors can increase the risk that someone will hurt his or her partner. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that IPV will occur.

Some risk factors for perpetration (hurting a partner) include:

  • Using drugs or alcohol, especially drinking heavily
  • Witnessing or experiencing IPV as a child or adolescent increases one's risk of both perpetrating IPV and becoming a victim of IPV
  • Unemployment, which can cause feelings of stress
  • Lack of communication skills, particularly in the context of problematic situations with their intimate partners

How can we prevent IPV?

The goal is to stop IPV before it begins. Strategies that promote healthy dating relationships are important. These strategies should focus on young people when they are learning skills for dating. This approach can help those at risk from becoming victims or offenders of IPV.

Traditionally, women's groups have addressed IPV by setting up crisis hotlines and shelters for battered women. But, both men and women can work with young people to prevent IPV. Adults can help change social norms, be role models, mentor youth, and work with others to end this violence. For example, by modeling nonviolent relationships, men and women can send the message to young boys and girls that violence is not okay.

Safety Tips for You and Your Family

  • If you are the victim of intimate partner violence, do not blame yourself. Talk with people you trust and seek services. Contact your local battered women's shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), 800-787-3224 TDD, or They can provide you with helpful information and advice. 
  • If you are or think you may become a perpetrator of intimate partner violence contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), 800-787-3224 (TDD), or They can provide you with helpful contact information.
  • Recognize early warning signs for physical violence such as a partner's extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, verbal threats, history of violent tendencies or abusing others, and verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Know what services are available for victims and perpetrators of intimate partner violence and their children in case you or a friend should need help.
  • Learn more about intimate partner violence. Information is available in libraries, from local and national domestic violence organizations, and through the Internet. The more you know about intimate partner violence, the easier it will be to recognize it and help friends who may be victims or perpetrators.


  1. Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington (DC): Department of Justice (US); 2000. Publication No. NCJ 181867. Available from: URL:
  2. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicide trends in the United States [online]. [cited 2006 Aug 28]. Available from URL:
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. Atlanta (GA): CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2003. [cited 2006 May 22]. Available from: URL:
  4. Max W, Rice DP, Finkelstein E, Bardwell RA, Leadbetter S. The economic toll of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. Violence and Victims 2004;19(3):259-72.

Adapted from Understanding Intimate Partner Violence Fact Sheet 2006
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Reviewed by athealth on February 5, 2014.