The Five Types of Intimate Partner Violence

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence (IPV), is a serious, preventable public health problem affecting more than 32 million Americans. The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical, sexual or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or samesex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.


The term “survivor” is often applied to those who have experienced intimate partner violence. Health care workers and advocates may use it instead of “patient” or “victim” because it is a more empowering term.


IPV can vary in frequency and severity. It occurs on a continuum, ranging from one hit that may or may not impact the victim to chronic, severe battering. Repeated abuse is also known as battering.


There are five types of intimate partner violence:
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, regardless of whether the act is completed;
  2. The 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;
  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 repeated behavior that causes victims to feel a high level of fear.


IPV is a serious problem that is common in our society. Violence by an intimate partner is linked to both immediate and long-term health, social, and economic consequences. Factors at all levels – individual, relationship, community and societal – contribute to the perpetration of IPV. Preventing IPV requires a clear understanding of those factors, coordinated resources and empowering and initiating change in individuals, families, and society.

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