1. What is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention characterizes IPV as a pattern of coercive behaviors within a relationship. These behaviors may include physical injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, social isolation, deprivation, and/or intimidation.
The World Health Organization defines IPV as any behavior within a relationship that physically, psychologically, or sexually harms those in the relationship.
There are four main types of abuse within IPV: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.
2. But what does IPV really look like?
Intimate partner violence happens in a lot of different ways, so it can look very different from relationship to relationship. This image not only describes the various types of abuse that can take place, but also serves as a powerful metaphor. The information is arranged like spokes on a wheel, so even if some types of abuse are not taking place or happen less frequently, the wheel still stays together and the wheel still turns. Abuse is abuse.
3. Does it have to happen constantly to be considered IPV?
Absolutely not. In most cases, IPV happens in some sort of cycle (although the timing of the pattern can often be hard to predict). The phases of this cycle frequently look something like this:
The Honeymoon Phase
Both individuals love and depend on one another, and no abuse is taking place. If abuse has happened in the past, both individuals are acting as if it had never happened. The abuser may show signs of jealousy, but these may make the victim feel safe, important, and loved. The victim hopes the abuse is over with.
The Tension-Building Phase
Minor incidents begin to occur, and the victim often begins to feel as if they are walking on eggshells. The victim may believe it is their fault the abuser is upset, and spends time trying to figure out how to prevent any violence and how to keep the abuser calm.
The Explosive Phase
The building tension is released – this can happen in a variety of ways depending on the history violence within the relationship. The situation gets progressively worse, and the abuse is out of control. The victim may be terrorized for hours and in many different ways. The police are most often called during this phase, and the victim may even end up in the hospital.
The Reconciliation Phase
The abuser apologizes profusely to the victim, begging them to forgive them and insisting the abuse will never happen again. Because the victim is still in shock that the abuse happened, they are often vulnerable to accept the pleas of the abuser. Oftentimes, the abuse is denied and minimized (by both the victim and the abuser), and false resolution is made. And so the couple enters back into the honeymoon phase, and the cycle begins again.
4. Who does IPV affect? Is it common?
Unfortunately, IPV is much more common among both men and women than it should be. In the US, 35% of women and 28% of men have experienced some form of IPV in their lifetime. Severe physical IPV has affected 24% of women and 14% of men over their lifetime. Females most often experience multiple forms of IPV, while men most commonly experience only physical IPV.
5. Why do some people stay in abusive relationships?
Abusive relationships are very complicated, and are often very difficult to leave. If someone is or was in an abusive relationship, it is important to not judge them for “putting up” with it but to instead be supportive of their well-being and understanding of the difficult circumstances they are facing.
Some people who find themselves in IPV relationships do not realize that their relationship is unhealthy. They may think that their partner has a reason for lashing out in a such a way and they want to help fix them. For instance, their partner may have had a troubling childhood, may be dealing with stressful life events, may be under a lot of pressure, etc. They may think they are being strong by staying to help their partner through their problems, and may not even consider themselves a victim.
Other people may recognize the abuse but think that there is no way to get out of the relationship and away from the abuse. They may be too afraid to leave and possibly make the situation worse, they may not have the resources and support to leave the abuser, or the abuser may be a parent to their children and they do not want to break up the family.
There are other reasons people feel they must stay, they cannot leave, or they have no choice. But what’s important is not why someone stays; what’s important is how you can help them leave, move on, and start over. Support, kindness, and understanding are of the upmost importance to the physical and emotional well-being of victims of IPV.
6. How can I help myself or a loved one get out of a relationship with IPV?
If you find yourself in immediate danger, call 911 or leave right away.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Establish a code word to use with friends/family to discretely let them know you are in danger but near your abuser. Reach out to those you trust.
If you are injured, go to an emergency room to seek care and notify the doctor or hospital staff of your circumstances.
Find a local domestic violence shelter, where you can get temporary housing, food, and other assistance such as counseling and next steps.
7. Is there any way to stop IPV within our society?
The best way to combat IPV is education and advocacy. Make sure you know the signs of IPV, and teach your friends and family about the dangers of abusive relationships. Start open and honest conversations with those around you about healthy relationships, and be compassionate and understanding to those struggling with IPV. Know the resources offered by your community and don’t be afraid to reach out for help or advice for yourself or a loved one.