Domestic, Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is the most frequent type of violence committed against women. Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, is defined by the US Department of Human Services as:

Abuse that is committed by a current or past spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. The types of abuse include actual or threatened physical and/or sexual assault, emotional abuse, or verbal abuse. These crimes occur in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

Although less likely than men to experience violent crime, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner. Each year, an estimated 1.9 million physical assaults and more than 300,000 sexual assaults are committed against American women by intimate partners. Women living with HIV can be at increased risk for intimate partner violence. Research has shown that HIV positive women report emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at some time after their diagnosis.

Intimate partner violence or domestic violence involves elements of control and the abuse of power by the person committing the violence. By using intimidation, coercion and threats, and emotional or economic abuse, these abusers exert their control over their victims. In many cases, victims are too frightened to ask for help or to report the acts of violence committed against them or their children.

A number of reasons could be given for an abuser's behavior, including:

  • economic hardship;
  • growing up in a violent or abusive household; or
  • abusing drugs or alcohol or both.

There is no justification, however, for violent behavior

Violence against women affects not only women of all ages and racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds, but children, families, and friends of the victims. Don't let violence stifle your spirit.

Steps you can take

  • If you are being abused by a partner or spouse, leave immediately! Understand that you are not alone. Don't ignore it or wait for it to go away -- it won't. You are in danger and your children may be as well. Call the National Domestic Violence Hot-line (800-799-SAFE) 24 hours a day for help and referrals to local hotlines and other resources like shelters. The hot-line has operators to talk to you in English, Spanish, and other languages.

  • Don't keep it to yourself. Get help. Talk with someone: a family member, friend, colleague, workplace counselor, faith counselor.

  • If you have been hurt, get medical attention right away and call the police. Any type of abuse, including domestic violence, rape, and stalking are all crimes.

  • Talk to a local family court counselor about civil protection orders to protect yourself from further abuse, domestic violence, or stalking.

  • If you decide to leave, choose a place to go and set aside some money. Put important papers and items in a place where you can get them quickly.

The consequences of intimate partner violence can be devastating to women. Physical and emotional trauma can lead to increased stress, depression, lowered self-esteem, and posttraumatic stress disorder (an emotional state of discomfort and stress associated with the memories of a disturbing event).

Violence against women by any one is always wrong, whether the abuser is a current or past spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend; someone you date; a family member; an acquaintance; or a stranger. You are not at fault. You did not cause the abuse to occur, and you are not responsible for the violent behavior of someone else.

If you're a victim of violence at the hands of someone you know or love or you are recovering from an assault by a stranger, you are not alone. To get immediate help and support call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

For related information, please visit the following areas:

Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Women's Health Information Center, US Department of Health and Human Services (

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Last Editorial Review: 9/30/2002