Intimate Partner Violence: Recognizing Abuse
by Laurie B. Rosenblum, MPH
Anyone can be the victim of intimate partner violence (IPV). Recognizing the characteristics of IPV and having a safety plan in place can save your life.
IPV is a pattern of physically, psychologically, and/or emotionally abusive behavior directed at a current or past intimate partner. It is often used interchangeably with domestic violence and domestic abuse. IPV includes a wide range of behaviors that involves two people who are connected and in touch with one another. This may include those who may be living together or apart, dating, married, separated, or divorced.
There are 4 main components of IPV that may include one or more of the following:
Who IPV Affects
IPV cuts across all age, economic, educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds. It is most commonly associated with violence against women committed by men. However, men are also victims of IPV. Relationships include a spectrum of couples that may be homosexual, bisexual, and/or transgender. Children are also at risk of exposure to IPV in the home.
Characteristics of an Abuser
Although abusers come from all walks of life, they tend to have some characteristics in common. These include:
Common Signs of Abuse
Examples of physical abuse include:
The abuser does things to make the victim feel scared, worthless, and helpless. Again, this is a pattern of behavior, not just an occasional insult. Examples include:
Sexual abuse can be sexual acts, demands, or insults. Examples include:
Knowing If You or Somone Is Abused
Ask yourself these questions about your partner:
Ask yourself these questions about your friend or family member who may be experiencing abuse:
How Are Children Affected?
Abuse often filters down to any children who may be in the home. Child abuse occurs much more often in families where IPV is present. Also, IPV against the mother has been associated with an increased risk of death for the children.
Whether children are being abused directly or just living with abuse around them, their lives are disrupted. They can experience fear, confusion, and pain. This greatly increases their chance of developing emotional and behavioral problems, such as low self-esteem, withdrawal, self-blame, aggression toward others, and problems in school and relationships. They learn that violence is acceptable, they are at greater risk for committing criminal or self-destructive behavior, and they are more likely to become abusers as adults.
If you or someone you know is being abused, seek help. Talk with someone you trust, such as a close friend or relative. Consider calling a domestic violence hotline and talking with a counselor. Some online resources will protect you when using their website by erasing your history and/or closing the browser with the push of a button with your mouse.
Have an honest talk with your doctor. Because of new recommendations, your doctor may ask questions about your home life and safety. They are also better equipped to put you in the hands of those who can help you with referrals, and educational and prevention information.
Remember, IPV is not your fault, and no one ever has the right to abuse another person. You have a right to be safe and,help is available.
Planning for Your Safety
If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to have a safety plan. Such a plan can be helpful whether you are trying to stay in or leave the relationship. An IPV counselor can help you develop a plan tailored to your needs. Listed below are some common elements of a safety plan:
Keep items listed below easily accessible for an emergency or if you want to leave. Consider keeping some of them, including copies of important papers, with a trusted relative or friend.
If you suspect that you will be leaving the relationship, try and obtain a credit card or debit card in your own name so that your abuser cannot cancel the cards. If you are ever in danger—or feel that you or your children are about to be in danger—call for emergency medical services. In a growing number of cities and towns across the US, law enforcement personnel are trained specifically to handle cases of domestic violence.
Futures without Violence
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Ending Violence Association of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Dicola D, Spaar E. Intimate partner violence. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(8):646-651.
Intimate partner violence: Definitions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/definitions.html. Updated May 3, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2016.
Understanding domestic abusers. Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. New York State website. Available at:
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Accessed December 20, 2016.
Violence against women. Office on Women's Health. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/violence-against-women/am-i-being-abused/index.html. Accessed December 20, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 4/17/2018
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