Abuse is a pattern of behaviors typically used to exert control over another person. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a form of abuse between two people in a relationship together, such as dating partners or spouses. IPV can occur in relationships regardless of race, culture, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, or economic status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2014 that, based on the number of reported incidents, IPV affects 20 people each minute in the United States, or about 12 million people each year.
Types of Intimate Partner Violence
Abusive behavior exists along a continuum ranging from minor to fatal and tends to escalate in intensity and frequency. Types of intimate partner violence include:
- Physical abuse involves bodily harm to another person and has potential to result in visible injuries such as bruises and broken bones. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, pushing, shaking, pulling hair, or restricting another person’s movement.
- worthless, guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed. Some behaviors that can be considered emotionally abusive include: blaming, belittling, name-calling, insulting, humiliating, isolating, intimidating, and criticizing.
- Sexual abuse is coercing or forcing another person into unwanted sexual activity or engaging in sexual situations where victims are unconscious and unable to consent. Sexually abusive behavior includes sabotaging birth control, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touch, and rape. Rape can occur within a marital relationship and is sometimes referred to intimate partner sexual violence.
- Financial or economic abuse means that one person in a relationship gains control over the other through financial means. Someone using financial abuse may control how, when, and where money is spent, withhold information about finances and bank accounts, provide their partner an allowance, or take money in deceptive ways.
- Spiritual abuse happens when a partner uses religion or spiritual beliefs to control another person. Perpetrators using spiritual abuse may deny their partner’s beliefs, prevent them from participating in religious ceremonies, use religion to intimidate them, or use religion to justify the abuse.
- Stalking is repeated, unwanted attention from a partner that causes a victim to fear for his or her safety or the safety of someone close to him or her. Stalking includes behaviors such as sending unwanted gifts, learning a person’s schedule or routine, sending repeated unwanted email or texts, and unexpectedly arriving at places where victims spend time.
The Effects of Intimate Partner Violence
Victims may experience numerous effects and consequences as a result of IPV. As the duration, number of types, and severity of abuse increase, the likelihood of developing mental and physical health issues also increases.
Possible physical consequences include:
- Increased risk for HIV/AIDS
- Chronic pain
- Gynecological problems for women
- Increased likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections
- Trouble sleeping
Mental health issues that may result from IPV include:
- Posttraumatic stress (PTSD)
- Thoughts of suicide
- Disordered eating
- Substance abuse
- Deliberate self-harm
Children witnessing intimate partner violence are at greater risk for developing various mental, physical, and behavioral issues.
Support for IPV Survivors
There are helpful and unhelpful things people can do when they discover someone is being abused. Asking people in abusive relationships why they stay or pressuring them to leave is unhelpful and should be avoided. Asking “why” can increase the survivor’s self-blame, guilt, and sense of shame. Some of the reasons people may stay in an abusive relationship include:
- Financial: The person may fear being without housing, transportation, or may rely on the abusive person for financial support.
- Children: A parent may not want to deal with custody issues or the court system. Perpetrators often use the survivor’s mental health status, lack of income, or substance use against the survivor during the court process to obtain custody.
- Conflict with religious or cultural beliefs: The person may have religious or cultural beliefs that conflict with divorce.
- Threats: The perpetrator may make threats of suicide or to hurt the children or family pets if the person leaves.
Asking people in abusive relationships why they stay or pressuring them to leave is unhelpful and should be avoided. Asking “why” can increase the survivor’s self-blame, guilt, and sense of shame.Keep in mind that abuse survivors have a right to make their own decisions. Instead of asking why the person stays, it can be more helpful to offer your support. You can express concern about the abusive person’s behavior and the survivor’s safety. Offer to babysit occasionally or to prepare a meal, provide a safe place to stay, or help the survivor identify or obtain services in the community.
Be mindful that perpetrators often try to isolate their partners and may be suspicious of their partners interacting with others. Try to avoid direct confrontation with the perpetrator, as it could be dangerous for you or to the person you’re trying to help. Keep the abused person’s safety as well as your own in mind when providing help.
Counseling and advocacy are additional options available to help survivors. Working with a therapist or other mental health professional may help victims weigh pros and cons of leaving, create safety plans, obtain legal assistance if desired, and create a safe space where survivors can process difficult subject matter they may not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else.
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention (2014). Understanding intimate partner violence. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv-factsheet.pdf
- National Center on Domestic Violence Trauma & Mental Health (2014). Current evidence: Intimate partner violence, trauma-related mental health conditions & chronic illness. Retrieved from http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/FactSheet_IPVTraumaMHChronicIllness_2014_Final.pdf
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