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.