Module 1: About Intimate Partner Violence

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Define and have a better understanding of intimate partner violence.
  • Learn the basic scope and impact of intimate partner violence.
  • Understand the distinction between the experience of intimate partner violence versus some common misconceptions and myths.
  • Learn what can be done to help and support people experiencing intimate partner violence.
  • Locate resources for additional information and support.

Lived Experience: Peggy Carlson


Read Peggy’s Story

I arrive home from work after stopping at my parents’ house. My mother had called to ask me to drop off some medicine for my father on my way home. Because the store is so close to my office I assumed this would be a quick stop, but there was a long wait at the store, and by the time I got home I was about 45 minutes late.

When I walk in the door, Bruce is with Amanda and Brian in the living room. They are all playing with a brand-new puppy that Bruce just brought home – a puppy we never discussed. He confronts me about being late and accuses me of hanging out with my guy friends from work. I tell him he’s crazy and that I had to stop at the store for my mom. In an effort to appease him, I offer to call my mother, even though I don’t like to involve my parents. But he doesn’t seem to hear me, and he keeps yelling at me about being late, and I start to get mad. I am really worried about the kids seeing all of this and I just want him to stop. I tell him he’s being stupid and to try to calm down. This only seems to escalate his anger and he rants that he knows my mom has lied for me in the past and would do it again. He yells that he was trying to do something nice and surprise everyone with a new puppy, but I screwed things up by not being home for the surprise. He kicks the dog in front of the kids.


About Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner or domestic violence is a significant public health problem. The definition of intimate partner violence varies in different contexts. Families Thrive has developed a working description of intimate partner violence as a serious, preventable problem that affects millions of individual people and communities at large. The term intimate partner violence describes physical, psychological or sexual harm by a current or former partner or spouse.

Intimate partner violence affects individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, or educational background.

Intimate partner violence can vary in frequency and severity and often involves systematic patterns that range from verbal abuse, emotional abuse and stalking to chronic severe battering. Intimate partner violence may include the following types of behavior:

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using other types of physical force.

  • Sexual violence is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.

  • Emotional abuse is threatening a partner or loved ones, or harming a partner’s sense of self-worth. Examples are stalking, name-calling, intimidation, and isolation from friends and family.

  • Financial abuse is controlling and limiting the victim’s access to financial resources.

  • Teen dating abuse is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional conduct or technological use by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control a current or previous dating partner.

Power and control

Intimate partner violence stems from a pattern of power and control often learned in a person’s family and from norms embedded in our broader culture, such as the normalization of the use of violence in our society and traditional gender roles. These patterns can be continued throughout people's lives unless the patterns are interrupted and people are able to learn healthier ways of relating. 

How different people might experience intimate partner violence


  • One in every three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes (1).

  • More than one in every five women experience severe intimate partner violence in their lifetimes (2).

  • The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500% (3).

  • From 1993 to 2011, serious violence accounted for more than one-third (34%) of intimate partner abuse against females (4).

  • 37% of female homicide victims from 1993 to 2011 were killed by an intimate or known offender (4).


  • One in every six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes (1).

  • One in every seven men experience severe intimate partner violence (2).

  • From 2002 to 2011, a larger percentage of male than female victimizations involved a weapon (27% vs 18%) (4).


  • Two in five lesbian women, and three in five bisexual women, will experience rape, physical violence, or stalking in their lifetime (2).

  • More than one in four gay men experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime (5).

  • Approximately one-third of transgender people experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime (5).

  • LGBT victims face unique barriers to assistance including: legal definitions of domestic violence that exclude same-sex couples, dangers of “outing” oneself, lack of LGBT-friendly resources, and potential or feared homophobia in service providers or law enforcement.

Children and teens

  • Among high school students who dated, 21% of females and 10% of males experienced dating violence (6).

  • Youth who experience dating violence are more likely to experience negative psychological events, such as depression (6).

  • Children exposed to intimate partner violence may be at increased risk of psychological, social, and emotional issues (7).


  • Survivors of digital abuse are twice as likely to be physically abused (8).

  • Intimate partner violence remains one of the most underreported crimes due to fear of reprisal and not wanting the offender to be in trouble (9).


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Intimate Partner Survey Report (2017). Atlanta, GA.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization (2014). Atlanta, GA.

  3. Campbell, et al. (2003). Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7):1089-97

  4. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization 1993-2011 (2013). Washington, DC.

  5. Williams Institute, Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse Among LGBT People (2015). Los Angeles, CA

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Understanding Teen Dating Violence (2016). Atlanta, GA.

  7. Wathen, N. & MacMillan, H. (2013). Children’s exposure to intimate partner violence: Impacts and interventions, Pediatric Children’s Health, 18(8):419-22

  8. Urban Institute, Teen Dating Abuse and Harassment in the Digital World (2013). Washington, DC.

  9. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 2006-2010 (2012). Washington, DC.


Common Myths

Intimate partner violence is complicated. Violence can be thought of as a learned behavior, often from the family of origin. A higher percentage of abusers were exposed to domestic violence growing up, although many children exposed to domestic violence do not abuse their intimate partners. The use of power and control can often become normalized and people may not realize there are different choices. When we see intimate partner violence through a trauma-informed lens, we realize that people's early experiences of trauma and abuse may greatly impact the way they relate with others. In addition, abuse in relationships is often influenced by social norms and the larger context of society around the use of violence and acceptance of force in intimate relationships.

Some common myths

MYTH: It is an easy option to leave an abusive relationship. “If it was really that bad they would leave. Why would someone stay if they were being abused? I wouldn’t stay for a second if that was happening to me.”

Leaving any relationship can be very difficult. The emotional ties, history, love, and commitment can all be rolled into a relationship. These aspects can make leaving very difficult for anyone. There are many people who don’t want to stop being with their partner they only want the use of violence and control to stop. Many want to maintain the family structure and keep their families together.  Having the option to leave is much more complicated than packing a suitcase and walking out the door.

For many victims of intimate partner violence there are barriers to leaving such as: economic dependence; few viable options for a new place to live; lack of support from family and friends; and unhelpful responses from the criminal justice system or other agencies that question their reality and don’t want to believe them.

Study after study has shown that the process of separating from and leaving an abusive partner can increase rather than diminish the danger for victims of intimate partner violence and their children. Victims live with threats such as, “if you leave me you will never see tomorrow” or “if you leave me you will never see the children again.” Abusers often increase these threats, and increase the violence and control tactics if they believe their partner is leaving or preparing to leave.

MYTH: Children aren’t impacted by the intimate partner violence that is occurring in their home. “Children don’t know what is going on if they aren’t in the room.”

Even if children are not present in the room or seeing the domestic violence, they are experiencing it. Research on brain development is providing new insights to how children are impacted by intimate partner violence in the home. Children have a good sense of knowing what is going on with their parents. In addition, studies show that child abuse occurs in 30-60% of family violence cases that involve families with children.


Lived Experience: LaTanya Johnson

Read LaTanya’s Story


One evening, a few weeks ago, the kids and I were just settling in after a long day – Mike and Kimmy had a bunch of homework, and I was trying to get dinner together. Clinton got home and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. He seemed tense and started complaining about his rough day at work. He’s a managing editor at the local paper, and they’ve had a bunch of layoffs. Clinton recently was forced to fire some of his friends at work. He has been worried that he was next.

I poured him a drink, and asked him what happened during his day.  I tried to gently remind him that the family can’t live on my salary alone, so Clinton needs to be careful and avoid being fired. Clinton got angry and exploded at me. He told me, “You think I don’t know that!” He told me I was never supportive, always critical and not the person he married 16 years ago.

And you know what? I just lost it. I am sick of being blamed for everything that is wrong in Clinton’s life and I told him so. So then Clinton really got heated up, and he went to slap me, but Mike, our sixteen-year-old son, stepped in. Clinton pulled his hand back and tried to laugh it off, telling everyone to relax.

I was so afraid of Clinton, and of this whole situation at this point. His verbal attacks were escalating into physical attacks in front of both children. The fact that Mike stepped in to protect me really freaks me out. Kimmy, our fifteen-year-old daughter, asked me and Mike to come into the bedroom. We followed Kimmy into the bedroom and she shut the door and asks if we’re ok. But you know, Clinton, he realized that we are all in the bedroom together, and he locked us all in by putting something by the doorknob.

What happened next involves some speculation, but Clinton says he was smoking and the nearby curtains caught on fire on accident. Mike thinks he tried to kill us.  Thank goodness Kimmy had her cell phone – she called 911, the fire trucks and police arrived.  Clinton ended up being arrested.


The Power & Control Wheel

The Power & Control Wheel displays an interrelationship between power and control, the tactics used to reinforce power and control, and the different threats of violence and abuse (the outside ring of the wheel).

The wheel is used to convey the nature of violence and abuse. The wheel illustrates the relationship between abusive behaviors and violence, and depicts people’s experiences of being subjected to a pattern of power and control by another person.

It is important to note that the graphic is an illustration of domestic violence. Not all people control with the same tactics or violence. While there are common characteristics across people who abuse, such as tending to see themselves as the victims of those they abuse, we cannot group all people who abuse into a single universal category or type. It is also important to note that not all tactics of abuse are obvious to others outside of the relationship, and sometimes to the victim themselves, and at the same time can be extremely damaging.

Download a copy of The Power & Control Wheel


What Can We Do?

Practitioners may find themselves challenged to understand the level of power and control a person has over their intimate partner. This lack of understanding can inadvertently add to the harm caused by abuse (1).

In order to not cause further harm to people experiencing abuse, we need to understand the fuller context of the situation. To start, we can work to distinguish who is doing what to whom and with what impact.

By doing so, we can better understand any given act: the intent of the person abusing, the meaning to the person being abused, and the effect on the person being abused.

Knowing the circumstance is very important. The following three questions will help.

1. Is this action part of an ongoing pattern of behavior?

For example: Your colleague calls in sick from work a lot, and more than once you’ve heard her on the phone with her husband whispering “please don’t be mad.” Abusive behaviors don’t happen just once – they occur over and over. It is a pattern.

2. Does this pattern of behavior instill fear?

Fear is a powerful way to exercise control over someone. A person who abuses may use ongoing threatened and actual violence, isolation, economic, or emotional abuse that instill fear and exercise control.

3. Does this pattern of behavior result in control over another person?

A key element of intimate partner violence is control over another person. Intimate partner violence allows a person to exercise control over one’s partner. If the balance of power shifts, there is a risk of escalating abuse and violence to maintain control.

What else is important?

Listen with support and without judgment

  • Be thoughtful in our responses

Show respect to parents around their children

  • Talk respectfully
  • Respect their wishes
  • Talk to parents privately away from their children for sensitive conversations

Offer practical resources

  • Find out what immediate needs the family has (e.g., food, housing, medical care, sleep, cell phone)
  • Find out what other needs the parents and children have (e.g., someone to watch the children, car repairs, assistance with utility bills, job, support in school)
  • Help parents spend stress-free time with their children

Talk with parents about the harm caused by the abuse

  • Discuss how children are impacted by intimate partner violence
  • When people question the impact of violence or abuse and believe things will change if they do something different, discuss ways that they can reduce the possibility of harm and increase safety
  • Discuss the risks of intergenerational transmission of abuse and how to break the cycle


  1. Adapted from “Repairing the Harm: How Family and Friends Can Help Battered Mothers and their Children” (Praxis International).

Lived Experience: Aimee Choi

Read Aimee’s Story


I come home after picking up Anna at kindergarten and when I arrive, my mother-in-law is in the house with my husband, Young. Young begins yelling and berating me. He tells me that I should have left work early so I could make dinner and greet his mother. I apologize and try to explain that if I left work early I could lose my job. Young tells me he wants me to quit my job and that he never wanted me to work. He reminds me that he works as much as he does so that I can be home with our children if I wanted to. He tells me that Nelson needs his mother and that sending him to preschool is selfish.

Finally Young tells me I am a bad mother. He says that Anna needs to understand how Korean women are expected to act. He turns his attention to Anna and starts yelling at her to get her brother a drink and to start helping me prepare dinner. I step in, and quietly tell Anna to go get changed and start her homework in her room and that I can make dinner. Young gets mad, and raises his hand as if he is going to hit me. Anna tries to step between us.  His mother jumps in and starts yelling at me, saying that I am a bad wife and need to take better care of her grandson and son. This infuriates Young even more, and he orders me to quit my job. He continues to tell me that if I do not quit my job tomorrow he will take the children away. He says that I will be sorry, very sorry if I do not obey him.

I take both children from the room to the kitchen where I begin to prepare dinner. I leave Young and his mother alone in the living room. This is not the first time he’s done this – we have this conversation often. This is the first time he’s felt like he could do it in front of his mother, though. I think I need to leave, but I don’t know how and I have no idea where I can go. There is a lot of shame in leaving the family.


Critical Thinking

This section is intended to allow us to integrate the training content into the lived experiences of families. Each of these critical thinking questions addresses one or more of the people in the Carlson, Choi, or Johnson families, and examines an aspect of their lives.

Take time to think about each of these questions, and think about responses from multiple stakeholders’ points of view. It may be helpful to go back and review sections of the curriculum, re-read the experiences of each family member, and engage in dialogue with community partners and co-workers.

  • In what ways do you see Clinton’s behavior instilling fear in LaTanya?

  • How do you see Bruce demonstrating a pattern of abusive behavior towards Peggy?

  • In what way do you see a pattern of ongoing abuse by Young toward Aimee? What tactics of power and control do you see?