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Intimate Partner Violence: Recognizing Abuse

Anyone can be the victim of intimate partner violence (IPV). Knowing the signs of IPV and having a safety plan in place can save your life.

What is IPV

IPV is a pattern of abuse directed at a current or past intimate partner. The abuse may be physical, psychological, and/or emotional. IPV is also called domestic violence and domestic abuse. IPV may involve those living together or apart, dating, married, separated, or divorced.

Who IPV Affects

IPV affects people of all ages, economic, educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds. It is most commonly seen as men being violent to women. However, men are also victims of IPV. It may also affect those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender. Children are also at risk of exposure to IPV in the home.

Characteristics of an Abuser

Abusers come from all walks of life. They tend to:

Common Signs of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Examples of physical abuse are:

  • Hitting, shoving, punching, kicking, choking
  • Throwing or destroying things
  • Blocking you from leaving the room or house
  • Subjecting you to reckless driving
  • Threatening or hurting you with a weapon

Emotional Abuse

The abuser does things to make the victim feel scared, worthless, and helpless. This is a pattern of behavior. It is not just an insult once in a while. Examples are:

  • Insulting, blaming, criticizing, name-calling
  • Humiliating you in public
  • Accusing you of having affairs
  • Controlling all the money
  • Telling you what to do, where to go, and who you can see
  • Threatening or hurting your children

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be sexual acts, demands, or insults. Examples are:

  • Unwanted touching or sexual comments
  • Calling you sexual names, such as "slut" or "frigid"
  • Forcing you to have sex
  • Attacking your sexual body parts or hurting you during sex
  • Withholding birth control, then forcing you to have an abortion

Knowing If You or Someone Else Is Abused

Ask yourself these questions about your partner:

Here are some signs that a family member or friend may be abused:

How Are Children Affected?

Child abuse happens much more often in families where there is IPV.

Children living with abuse have disrupted lives. They have a higher risk of emotional and behavioral problems, such as:

Children who live with abuse are also more likely to become abusers as adults.

Finding Help

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. They will erase your history and/or close the browser with the push of a button.

Have an honest talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help you with referrals for help.

Remember, IPV is not your fault. No one ever has the right to abuse another person. You have a right to be safe.

Planning for Your Safety

If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to have a safety plan. A plan can be helpful whether you want to stay or leave the relationship. An IPV counselor can help you develop a plan. It may include these steps:

Have important items ready if you want to leave. Consider keeping some of them with a trusted relative or friend. These items include:

If you plan to leave the relationship, try to put a credit card or debit card in your own name. That way your abuser cannot cancel the cards. If you or your children are ever in danger or possible danger, call for emergency help.


Futures without Violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline


Ending Violence Association of Canada

Health Canada


Dicola D, Spaar E. Intimate partner violence. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(8):646-651.

Intimate partner violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed October 28, 2021.

Intimate partner violence. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 28, 2021.

Intimate partner violence. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network website. Available at: Accessed October 27, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/28/2021