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Intimate Partner Violence


Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) occurs when a current or former partner uses behaviors or threats that can make you feel scared, controlled, or intimidated. A relationship in which IPV occurs is known as an abusive relationship.

Overview of IPV

IPV could include any of the following:

  • Physical violence: hitting, pushing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, slapping
  • Sexual violence: attempted or actual sexual contact without your consent
  • Threats of physical or sexual abuse: words, looks or gestures to control or frighten
  • Psychological or emotional abuse: humiliating, putting down, isolating, threatening
  • Stalking: following, harassing, or unwanted contact that makes you feel afraid

What are some relationship red flags?

Relationships can be complicated in general. A relationship with IPV can be overwhelming and confusing. Sometimes it can be hard to know if you have experienced IPV. The following questions give some examples of unsafe behaviors that can happen in a relationship.

  • Does your partner control all of the family income and budget? Control your work or your schooling?
  • Does your partner keep you away from friends and family? Control you by questions and threats about what you do, where you go, and people you see?
  • Does your partner put you down, or make you feel guilty or ashamed? Blame you for the abuse?
  • Does your partner make or carry out threats to hurt your body or your feelings, or those of someone you love? Threaten to ruin your reputation? Threaten to take your children away?
  • Does your partner scare you by breaking or destroying objects, or punching holes in walls? Hurting or threatening pets?
  • Does your partner physically or sexually assault you or your children?

How common is IPV?

You are not alone. IPV can happen to anyone no matter how much education or money they have. IPV happens to people of all racial, ethnic, or cultural groups, and of any religion or sexual orientation. An estimated 22% to 31% of American women report experiencing IPV at some point in their lives.

How might IPV affect me?

You may not realize it, but the impact of IPV can reach far beyond the actual or threatened abuse. Here are some general examples:

  • Experiencing IPV may mean that you have more physical health problems. Women with a history of IPV report 60% higher rates of health problems when compared to women with no history of abuse.
  • Experiencing IPV may mean that you have more problems with your mood. IPV can lead to depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety or worry, feeling emotionally numb, problems with alcohol or drugs, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Your health care provider may assess you for posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and depression.
  • Experiencing IPV may also affect your job or career. Women who had experienced IPV were found to be more likely to have periods of no work than those who had not experienced IPV.

Staying safe

Only you know what is safest for you and your children. What you may do to keep yourself safe may change over time. Whether or not you are in an abusive relationship, safety planning is something you can do now to help improve your safety situation. Some important safety practices are as follows:

  • If you think that you or your children are in danger, leave the situation right away.
  • Make a note of safe places within your home to go when conflicts begin to heat up. Avoid rooms with weapons (such as the kitchen) or with no exits (such as closets, bathrooms).
  • Consider finding a code word to use as a distress signal to family members, children, and friends. Inform them in advance that if they hear you use the code word, they should get help right away.
  • Pack a suitcase with items to take with you when you leave. Make copies of important legal documents (such as driver's license, social security cards, birth certificates, medical records showing previous injuries) and set some money aside. Hide these items in a place where your partner will not find them.
  • Make a list of people and agencies you can call or go to in case of an emergency. Learn key phone numbers (such as the number for your local shelter, even if you think you won't need it).
  • Talk with someone you trust. Even if you do not want to discuss the details of your situation, simply telling one person that you trust that you have experienced IPV and that you may need their support in the future can help.
  • Consider talking to neighbors about calling police for you if they hear loud noises or fighting.
  • Consider sharing your situation with your supervisor at work so that they might be able to help you with safety planning in your workplace.

What if I have children in my home?

If you have children in your home, here are some things you can do to to keep them safe and protect them from IPV as much as possible:

  • Ask your children straight out if they have ever been abused or experienced violence. Studies have shown that in 40% to 60% of families where there is IPV, child physical abuse is also present.
  • Develop a safety plan with and for your children:
    • Tell your children about safe places to go in the home when conflicts heat up. Practice escape routes with your children.
    • Teach your children whom to call for help in emergencies. Help them to learn important emergency phone numbers by heart. Very clearly explain to them how and when they should call for help.
    • Some children may try to stop a fight or argument in order to protect their parent. They may get hurt as a result. Teach your children not to get in the middle of a fight. Teach them what to do instead when a fight occurs. (They could go to a safe place or call emergency numbers.)

Getting support

Many people who have experienced IPV have a hard time talking about it. Experiencing IPV can bring up feelings of shame and low self-esteem. These feelings can make it hard to seek help. Also, since violent partners often try to control and keep their partners away from their loved ones, experiencing IPV can make you feel alone. If you have been threatened, even indirectly, with harm to you or your loved ones, you might feel afraid of what could happen if you tell about your experiences or try to get help. It can take a lot of time and courage to decide to seek help.

Remember that although you cannot stop your partner's behavior (only he or she can do that), you can find support for yourself and your children. Stay connected to friends and family who support your health and safety. Also, many professional resources and providers are available and well-trained to help you in a private and respectful manner.

How do I know when I am in a healthy relationship?

Some people who are in relationships with IPV may not have had much experience in safe, healthy relationships. They may not believe that healthy safe relationships actually exist. They do. While no relationship is perfect, here are some behaviors that are commonly found in healthy relationships:

  • Your partner supports your relationships with friends and family members.
  • Your partner asks your opinion and respectfully listens to your answers. You and your partner can agree to disagree and resolve conflicts without fear of name calling, insults, manipulation, threats, or violence.
  • Your partner accepts responsibility for his or her own mistakes, behavior, thoughts, or feelings and will offer sincere apologies and demonstrate change accordingly.
  • Your partner trusts you and is also trustworthy and is someone you and your children feel safe with.
  • You share in the decision making, the responsibility of family budgeting, and sharing the family resources to benefit all family members equally.

If you find that you would like to build or increase these behaviors in your current and future relationships, you may consider consulting with a health care professional about how to find support in doing so.

Support for children

If you have children in your home, you have likely worked very hard to keep them safe and protect them from IPV as much as possible. Sometimes parents hope that their children do not know that IPV is happening. However, in many families where IPV is occurring, the children are aware of it. They often report that they have heard or seen the abuse even when the adults in their home did not realize it.

Like you, children will be affected by IPV, even if they do not show it right away. After witnessing IPV, children often feel angry, insecure, worried, alone, frightened, powerless, confused, or they believe that they are to blame. They may have mixed feelings, both towards the abuser, and towards the non-abusing parent. They may think the violence is their fault, or that they are responsible for stopping it.

Children often show distress physically, so they may complain of things like headaches or stomachaches. They may have bad dreams or nightmares, wet the bed, act younger than their age, have social and learning difficulties at school, act aggressively, or they may withdraw from others. Some children will want to stay home because they are afraid of what may happen to their parent if they go out.

Many parents stay in a violent relationship because they believe keeping the family together provides children with a sense of security. In reality, children will likely feel more secure with one adult in a safe home than with two adults in a home with violence and fear.

If you find yourself in a relationship with IPV, here are some things you can do to support your children:

  • Talk to your children and listen to them. Most children want the chance to talk about what they are feeling. Try to be as honest as possible about the situation without scaring them. Children want to feel as if they can believe you and trust you. Tell them that the abuse is not their fault and that they are not responsible for adult behavior. Remind them that violence is wrong and that it does not solve problems.
  • Consider getting help for your children. Sometimes parents do not ask for help out of fear of being blamed or out of worry that their children will be taken away if IPV is reported. But often the most loving thing you can do as a parent is to seek support for yourself and your children.

How can friends and family help?

Friends and family often worry about their loved ones who are in unsafe, fearful situations. They sometimes wonder how they might be able to help. Here are some suggestions for friends and family:

  • Listen to and believe the IPV experience of your friend or family member.
  • Explain that no one deserves to be abused or battered by their partner. Explain that it is the abusive partner who is solely to blame and who is entirely responsible for their own behavior.
  • Share that you continue to be worried about the safety of your friend or family member and any children in the family.
  • Express that you care about your friend or family member no matter what. Let them know you will help support them when they are ready to leave the relationship or to seek professional help.

Information specific to Veterans

Women Veterans and active duty military personnel are even more likely than non-Veterans to have experienced IPV. Among women Veterans, 39% report having experienced IPV at some point in their lives. In active duty women, 30% to 44% report having experienced IPV during their lifetimes.

Estimates of IPV committed by Veterans and active duty servicemen range between 13.5% and 58% and these rates have been found to be up to three times higher than seen among civilians.

VA has a number of resources available for those who have experienced IPV. At each VA Medical Center nationwide, a Women Veterans Program Manager is designated to assist women Veterans. This person can help coordinate all the services you may need related to IPV or other kinds of care, including help with safe housing or shelter.

In addition to the Women Veterans Program Manager, there are other VA resources that can help you. For housing or shelter, contact your nearest VA facility and ask for the Social Work Services department or the VA homeless coordinator (or point of contact). Any of these contacts can discuss what options are available in your area. Your VA mental health provider can also help connect you to community resources related to parenting, child, and family services.

Military sexual trauma survivors are at increased risk of having experienced other forms of violence, such as IPV, in the past and are at increased risk of future violence as well. Also, sometimes assaults that occur in the military are committed by current or former intimate partners. If relationship violence occurred while you were in the military, you can contact your nearest VA facility to speak with the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Coordinator. Every VA facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for the aftereffects of MST. Many have specialized outpatient mental health services focusing on sexual trauma.


The following phone numbers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It may be helpful to memorize them in case of emergency.

Call 911

National toll-free 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)*

National Sexual Assault hotline: 1-800-656-4673*

Date this content was last updated is at the bottom of the page.

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