Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence (IVP), partner abuse, and spousal abuse, is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. The terms domestic violence or intimate partner violence describe physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.
Domestic violence can vary in frequency and severity. It often starts with emotional abuse. This behavior can progress to physical or sexual assault, and several types of domestic violence may occur together.
Types of Domestic Violence
There are four main types of intimate partner violence (Saltzman et al. 2002):
- Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm. Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, scratching; pushing; shoving; throwing; grabbing; biting; choking; shaking; slapping; punching; burning; use of a weapon; and use of restraints or one's body, size, or strength against another person.
- Sexual violence is divided into three categories: 1) use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against his or her will, whether or not the act is completed; 2) attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, to decline participation, or to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act, e.g., because of illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or because of intimidation or pressure; and 3) abusive sexual contact.
- Threats of physical or sexual violence use words, gestures, or weapons to communicate the intent to cause death, disability, injury, or physical harm.
- Psychological/emotional violence involves trauma to the victim caused by acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics. Psychological/emotional abuse can include, but is not limited to, humiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources. It is considered psychological/emotional violence when there has been prior physical or sexual violence or prior threat of physical or sexual violence. In addition, stalking is often included among the types of IPV. Stalking generally refers to "harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property" (Tjaden & Thoennes 1998).
Domestic Violence Is A Serious Public Health Problem
- Each year, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes. Men are the victims of about 2.9 million intimate partner related physical assaults. (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
- Physical violence is typically accompanied by emotional or psychological abuse (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000). IPV-whether sexual, physical, or psychological-can lead to various psychological consequences for victims (Bergen 1996; Coker et al. 2002; Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002; Roberts, Klein, and Fisher 2003):
- Antisocial behavior
- Suicidal behavior in females
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to trust others, especially in intimate relationships
- Fear of intimacy
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
- Emotional detachment
- Sleep disturbances
- Replaying assault in the mind
- Women with a history of intimate partner abuse are more likely to display behaviors that present further health risks (e.g., substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide attempts) than women without a history of intimate partner abuse.
Risk factors are associated with a greater likelihood of intimate partner violence victimization or perpetration. They are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as "at risk" becomes involved in violence.
Some risk factors for domestic violence victimization and perpetration are the same. In addition, some risk factors for victimization and perpetration are associated with one another; for example, childhood physical or sexual victimization is a risk factor for future perpetration and victimization. Having been raised in a family where one witnessed domestic violence increases the risk of being a victim of domestic violence dramatically.
A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of IPV. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.
Individual Risk Factors
- Low self-esteem
- Low income
- Low academic achievement
- Young age
- Aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
- Heavy alcohol and drug use
- Anger and hostility
- Antisocial personality traits
- Borderline personality traits
- Prior history of being physically abusive
- Having few friends and being isolated from other people
- Emotional dependence and insecurity
- Belief in strict gender roles (e.g., male dominance and aggression in relationships)
- Desire for power and control in relationships
- Perpetrating psychological aggression
- Being a victim of physical or psychological abuse (consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration)
- History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
- History of experiencing physical discipline as a child
- Marital conflict-fights, tension, and other struggles
- Marital instability-divorces or separations
- Dominance and control of the relationship by one partner over the other
- Economic stress
- Unhealthy family relationships and interactions
Domestic Violence Prevention
The goal is to stop domestic violence before it begins. There is a lot to learn about how to prevent abuse between intimate partners. We do know that strategies that promote healthy behaviors in relationships are important. Programs that teach young people skills for dating can prevent violence. These programs can stop violence in dating relationships before it occurs.
We know less about how to prevent intimate partner abuse in adults. However, some programs that teach healthy relationship skills seem to help stop violence before it ever starts.
Domestic Violence Treatment
Domestic violence is a serious problem that affects thousands of people each year. Families, couples and anyone in a relationship may become victim to domestic violence. Domestic violence include any type of abusive behavior that arises between families or couples. People who are victims of domestic violence usually feel trapped and helpless as a result of the violent acts that are bestowed upon them by their family members or partners.
In most cases, the best treatment for domestic violence is to get out of the violent or abusive relationship. Although it can be difficult to leave an abusive relationship the alternative is too dangerous and is often deadly. Various types of rehab centers or abuse shelters are offered for victims of domestic violence. Legal services, job training and domestic abuse shelters may all provide help in the areas of domestic violence by offering assistance in getting out of abusive relationships. There is a domestic violence shelter in every county.
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence and needs help to get away from an abuser, our therapists are available to provide care and assistance so that you do not have to live with abuse physically or emotionally. Don't be ashamed to reach out for help. You have done nothing wrong. The abuse is not your fault. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve to feel at peace. You deserve to be uplifted and protected.
If your child or children grew up witnessing domestic violence they also are deeply affected and if they do not receive emotional support from a trusted adult or professional counselor, they will be impacted their entire life and likely enter into domestic violence relationships themselves.