Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Abusive Relationships: A Guide to Prevention and Intervention
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is an extensive, serious issue, both in the United States and around the world. Also referred to as “domestic violence,” or abusive relationships, this problem affects millions of people each year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about 20 people experience physical violence from an intimate partner every minute of the day, which amounts to roughly 10 million cases of abuse each year.
Though it is common, IPV is completely preventable, and no one ever needs or deserves to experience violence from a romantic partner. Actually preventing IPV, however, can be incredibly difficult. This issue doesn’t just stem from the choices of individuals who perpetrate domestic violence; it’s a societal problem that requires significant changes on a larger scale. To effectively end the issue of IPV, individuals, families, medical professionals, and communities need to know about different strategies and resources for prevention and intervention that are available.
This guide from Rider University Online will outline a number of different strategies and resources for IPV prevention and intervention. It will define IPV, explain the different behaviors that full under this larger umbrella, discuss how IPV differs from domestic violence, and describe some of the most common signs of abuse you need to be aware of. Further, it will outline both the risk and protective factors associated with IPV before examining some of the different approaches to prevention and intervention. Even if you or someone you know hasn’t been affected by this issue, it’s important for everyone to be prepared to intervene in situations involving IPV, and to do whatever they can to prevent it from happening in the future.
What Is Intimate Partner Violence?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), intimate partner violence “describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.” It can occur in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships, at any age, and does not require partners to be sexually intimate. IPV can manifest as a single episode or as a chronic issue that occurs continually over or after the course of a relationship. IPV encompasses four types of behavior, which may or may not co-occur — physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression — and also includes domestic violence. As there are many different ways it can be perpetrated, no two cases of IPV are identical.
Teen dating violence (TDV) is a specific type of IPV that affects adolescents. TDV is defined as “physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of any person ages 12 to 18 in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship.” TDV can serve as a precursor to adult IPV, as the CDC notes that “teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and throughout their lifetimes.” This risk is attributed to the fact that TDV can cause both perpetrators and victims to fall into the cycle of abuse at a young age. When carried into adulthood, teenagers may then perpetuate these unhealthy behaviors and experience IPV as adults.
What Is Domestic Violence?
“Intimate partner violence” and “domestic violence” are often used interchangeably, and for the most part, these two terms can be used synonymously. For the purposes of this guide, however, domestic violence will refer to IPV that occurs in the context of the home, between current or former romantic partners who live together, are married to each other, or share a child together. The same four behaviors that constitute IPV can also be considered domestic violence when they occur in the above circumstances.
What Are the Signs of Abuse?
Abusive relationships aren’t always easy to identify. Depending on the type of abuse being perpetrated, there may be little to no indication that you are experiencing IPV. The signs of emotional abuse, for instance, can differ greatly from signs of physical abuse. Because IPV can encompass such a wide range of behaviors, and because these behaviors can manifest differently in every situation, it’s important to understand some of the most common indicators that you are experiencing psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.
Signs of Psychological or Emotional Abuse
- Purposefully humiliating or embarrassing you;
- Purposefully degrading or insulting you;
- Keeping tabs on everything you do, such as constantly asking where you are or who you’re with, or demanding access or passwords to your personal online accounts;
- Discouraging or preventing you from seeing your friends or loved ones;
- Discouraging or preventing you from going to work, school, or other commitments, or from engaging in your hobbies or extracurricular activities;
- Being jealous, controlling, angry, or manipulative;
- Getting extremely upset or having a quick temper so you never know what will make them angry;
- Destroying or damaging your property;
- Making everyday decisions, like what you wear or eat, for you.
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Threatening or attempting to harm you, your children, your pets, or other people;
- Hurting you physically, including shoving, pushing, hitting, beating, punching, slapping, kicking, biting, or any other sort of harmful physical contact;
- Threatening, attempting to, or using any kind of weapon or object to physically harm you;
- Leaving or abandoning you in an unfamiliar place (or threatening to);
- Physically controlling where you go, such as forbidding you from leaving or entering your home;
- Physically controlling what you do, such as forcing or forbidding you to eat, sleep, or get medical care;
- Threatening self-harm or suicide when they’re upset with you;
- Threatening to turn you into the authorities or retaliate in some way if you report the abuse.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Forcing you to have sex or engage in any physically intimate activities, regardless of whether or not you want to do so;
- Coercing you into or making you feel like you’re obligated to engage in sexual activities;
- Forcing you to dress sexually or in a certain way when engaging in sexual activities;
- Assuming that because you consented to something in the past, you will or must partake in that activity in the future;
- Assuming that because you consent to a certain activity, you will escalate to other intimate sexual acts;
- Purposefully attempting to give you a sexually transmitted infection;
- Refusing or forbidding you to use birth control, or lying about doing so.
Similarly, it can be difficult to determine if someone you know or love is experiencing abuse. As someone outside of the relationship, though, you need to know what to look out for so you are able to intervene in the situation. Common warning signs that someone you know is being abused include:
- Injuries, such as black eyes, busted lips, or bruises, that they can’t explain or give a weak or false excuse for;
- Out-of-season or strange clothing (such as long-sleeved shirts in the summer) to cover up any physical markings;
- Sudden or out-of-the-blue personality changes;
- Constantly checking in with or talking to their partner;
- Intensely worried about pleasing their partner;
- Becoming withdrawn, isolated, meek, fearful, overly apologetic, or scared;
- Lacking interest in previously loved hobbies and interests;
- Pulling away from close relationships with friends and family members;
- Discussing thoughts of or attempting suicide.
Remember, these are just common signs that someone might be experiencing IPV, but not everyone will react the same way. Further, some of these signs may actually be symptoms of a different issue altogether. Simply do your best to be aware of any sudden changes in the behavior of your loved one, and know that you should trust your instincts.
There are certain risk factors that can make someone more likely to either perpetrate or experience IPV, though they do not guarantee it. Some factors are related to demographics, while others are linked to personal history and individual experiences. Some of the biggest IPV risk factors outlined by the CDC include:
- Age, as young adults and adolescents are more likely to experience IPV;
- Low income or unemployment;
- Low educational attainment;
- Childhood history, including exposure to violence, child abuse, sexual violence, or violence between parents;
- Stress and anxiety;
- Individual attitudes and beliefs, such as condoning relationship violence or believing in traditional gender roles;
Further, a systematic review of the risk factors associated with IPV found several other key factors, including:
- Race and ethnicity, as members of minority groups were found more likely to perpetrate IPV;
- Social isolation and antisocial behavior, which can make someone more likely to become a perpetrator or a victim;
- Current and past drug use;
- Relationship status, with married individuals being best protected and separated women being especially vulnerable to IPV;
- Low relationship satisfaction and high discord and conflict.
Just as there are factors that put you at a higher risk of experiencing IPV, there are protective factors that are associated with lower rates of relationship violence. The CDC, in line with findings stemming from scientific research, state that the following factors can reduce your risk of experiencing or perpetrating IPV:
- High empathy;
- High verbal IQ;
- A positive relationship with your mother;
- Good grades and attachment to school;
- Social support and close, high-quality friendships;
- More economic opportunities and high housing security;
- Fewer opportunities to obtain and drink alcohol;
- Community or societal norms that discourage IPV and other forms of violence.
Facts and Statistics
- More than one-third of women and one-fourth of men in the U.S. report experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
- 7% of women and 4% of men who experience IPV become victims before age 18.
- 47% of all men and women will experience psychological aggression at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are at an increased risk of IPV than their heterosexual counterparts, with bisexual men and women being at the highest risk.
- 18% of dating teenagers report experiencing physical or sexual violence in their relationship within the previous year, while 60% report psychological violence.
- From 1994 to 2010, roughly four in five victims of IPV were women.
- It’s estimated that 38% of all female homicide victims in the world are murdered by a male intimate partner.
- Among the adults who have been raped, stalked, or experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner, over 22% of women and 17% of men first experienced some form of IPV between the ages of 11 and 17.
- It’s estimated that IPV in the United States costs more than $5.8 billion annually.
- Financial abuse is thought to occur in 99% of all domestic violence cases.
Prevention Strategies and Resources
As mentioned above, IPV is completely preventable. No one ever needs to experience any type of violence from an intimate partner again. Of course, actually taking steps to end IPV is easier said than done; making positive changes and educating people takes time — but it’s not impossible and it’s well worth the effort. The following strategies and resources are meant to help all concerned parties prevent IPV.
Educate Children from a Young Age
Perhaps one of the best ways to prevent IPV is to educate children as early as possible on the importance of having respectful, caring, non-violent relationships. Children who witness or experience domestic violence and child abuse are at a higher risk of perpetrating IPV themselves.
Educating children about how to have loving and respectful relationships is essential. You should make an effort not just to teach them about healthy relationships, but also strive to model what healthy romantic relationships look like with your own intimate partners.
Anyone who is involved in a child’s life can help in this endeavor. Schools, caregivers, family members, and even medical or mental health professionals all play an important role in this education, and are in a unique position to make a difference in a child’s life.
Educational Materials and Videos
If you need help teaching your children about healthy relationships, there are plenty of educational materials and videos available:
- Be Strong: From the Inside Out: This development program is designed for young women and uses the concepts of “womanhood, respect, and positive relationships” to promote health and prevent violence.
- Fostering Resilience, Respect & Healthy Growth in Childhood and Beyond: This collection of resources works to help children thrive, both during and after childhood, by promoting prevention strategies that “foster healthy attitudes and behaviors.”
- Hardy Girls Healthy Women: This program instills that fixing larger societal issues is the key to supporting girls and women, and strives to address the problems that affect women in a greater societal context
- Healthy Teens: This 3-D immersive video game is designed to help teach teenagers everything they need to know about “positive, protective relationship skills.”
- Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships: This animated video discusses how adolescents can have healthy relationships, both with friends and romantic interests.
- It’s Time to Talk: This short video from Planned Parenthood provides tips to parents to help them answer difficult questions children might ask about sex, gender, sexuality, and relationships.
Encourage Healthy Relationships for Couples
It’s important to encourage everyone, but especially adolescents and young adults, to build healthy relationships with their romantic interests and partners. Creating healthy romantic relationships from the very beginning will ensure that couples don’t spiral into unhealthy habits or IPV. This is particularly important; though there are treatment programs available to help couples who have experienced IPV develop a healthier relationship, experts generally agree that in most cases, these spaces are not safe or comfortable for survivors. Programs that focus on the early stages of a relationship, before things become unhealthy or abusive, can be highly effective. These programs help teach couples how to have healthy relationships and coping skills. Family members, friends, local organizations, medical and health professionals, and community-based social workers can all provide useful information about available programs in your area.
Healthy Relationship Information and Programs
If you are looking for more information and programs to learn about how to have a healthy relationship, there are plenty of courses and resources available:
- Dating Matters: The CDC developed this course to promote healthy romantic relationships between adolescents and prevent TDV from happening in these relationships in the first place.
- Happy Couples: How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy: This article from the American Psychological Association describes some of the steps couples need to take to have a healthy relationship, and offers additional resources for readers who need or want more information.
- Healthy Marriage and Relationship Programs: A Promising Strategy for Strengthening Families: This discussion paper explores the effectiveness of marriage and relationship education that is supported and funded by the government, noting that these programs are particularly useful for strengthening low-income families.
- Healthy Relationships: This article defines what constitutes a healthy relationship, as well as what makes a relationship unhealthy. It also provides tips for clearer communication and creating boundaries.
- Our Relationship: This online program offers relationship help and advice to couples, and works to help them understand and solve any issues present in the relationship.
- Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices: This guide from the CDC is a comprehensive overview of how to prevent IPV, promote healthy relationships, and get help if your relationship turns toxic or abusive.
- Relationship Courses: Udemy offers thousands of online courses, including ones dedicated to helping couples strengthen their relationship. There are hundreds of different relationship courses, so you can easily browse around and find the one that works best for you and your partner.
- Understanding Healthy Relationships: This informational guide explains what elements go into a healthy relationship and offers resources for anyone who may need help with a toxic or abusive relationship. This guide is primarily targeted at members of the military, but much of the information is also useful for civilians.
Empower People Who Can Make a Difference
Everyone can make a difference when it comes to IPV, but they need to feel empowered and able to do so. In fact, to truly prevent IPV, everyone needs to know not only that they can make a difference, but how they can make a difference. Certain people may be in a particularly unique position to help individuals experiencing IPV, including families, teenage and adult men, and health professionals of all kinds. Empowering these groups and individuals with the information they need to notice abuse and speak up about it can help with both IPV prevention and intervention.
Empowerment Information and Programs
If you want to learn more about how to empower others to prevent IPV, there are many resources and programs available with additional information:
- Bringing in the Bystander: This bystander intervention workshop teaches individuals how to safely intervene in situations where IPV may be taking place.
- Coaching Boys Into Men: This educational program teaches athletic coaches how to positively influence the boys, teenagers, and young men they train both on and off the field, especially as it pertains to IPV and healthy relationship skills.
- Coordinated Public Health Initiatives to Address Violence Against Women and Adolescents: This research paper explores how public health responses to violence against women, children, and teenagers can help reduce and prevent IPV.
- Families for Safe Dates: This series of booklets is intended to help teach 8th-grade students about TDV, but it also provides information about other difficult subjects, such as drug use and sex, that may be useful to all middle and high school students.
- Green Dot: These violence prevention programs are designed for both children and adults, to help them understand IPV, its risk and protective factors, and how to safely intervene if it’s taking place.
- Healthy People 2020 Objectives for Violence Prevention and the Role of Nursing: This research article explains the 13 measurable violence prevention objectives and offers prevention resources for nurses and other medical professionals so they can try to stop violence before it ever occurs.
- Men and Boys: Preventing Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence: This collection of IPV prevention and intervention resources works to address the root causes of violence and teach individuals how they can better teach boys and men to have respectful attitudes toward women and relationships.
Improve Economic Conditions for Families and Survivors
Financial insecurity is a huge risk factor for IPV, and can make individuals more likely to both become a perpetrator or a victim. Poverty, low income, large or continual financial stress, gender inequality in terms of wages, and housing insecurity are all risk factors associated with IPV, and further, may be difficulties that survivors of IPV experience. Helping families and survivors financially doesn’t just address some of these risk factors; it also puts these individuals in a better place to get the help they need if they do experience IPV.
Financial Assistance for Struggling Families and Survivors
If you need or want more information about how to financially support struggling families and IPV survivors, there are plenty of resources and information available:
- Building Credit and Assets: Helping Survivors Recover from Economic Abuse: This collection of resources works to help supporters understand the difficulties and devastation associated with economic abuse so they can better help survivors recover from it.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Other Tax Credits: This collection of resources is meant to help individuals understand the EITC and other important tax credits for people who have dependents, as well as low-income and underserved populations.
- Governmental Financial Assistance: This search engine helps individuals find governmental financial support, both at the federal and state levels, that they may be eligible for based on their location and needs.
- Not Enough: What TANF Offers Family Violence Victims: This report examines the effectiveness and accessibility of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for IPV survivors.
- Purple Purse: This nonprofit organization from the Allstate Foundation strives to educate individuals about the intersection of domestic violence and financial abuse, research the prevalence and effects of IPV in the US, and provide funding and financial support to IPV survivors.
Intervention Strategies and Resources
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to prevent IPV from happening in the first place. In those cases, though, it is always possible for you to intervene and stop further violence. Many individuals in a victim’s life play key roles when it comes to intervening in IPV situations, but healthcare professionals and loved ones have the power to make a difference.
Healthcare professionals — and nurses in particular — are essential to IPV intervention. Modern healthcare professionals don’t just offer medical treatment; they work to advocate for patients in need and are crucial to breaking the cycle of abuse. Unlike friends or family members, nurses and other healthcare professionals are trained to look out for signs of abuse and know how to safely get someone help.
Friends and family members who are close to the couple may also be more likely to notice IPV. Though they may not know the signs of abuse or how to intervene safely, they know their loved ones well enough to know when something is amiss. In conjunction with healthcare professionals, emergency responders, community supporters, and the right resources, anyone can take steps to intervene in situations involving IPV.
Educate Victims on How to Get a Restraining Order
If you are able to intervene in a case of IPV, it’s important to have the information victims need to get out safely and protect themselves from future violence. One of the first things you should do is help the victim get a restraining order, or at least teach them about how to obtain one.
Also called a protection order, a restraining order is “a court order issued to prohibit an individual from causing harm or fear to another person by ordering the abuser to have no contact with, or to stay away from, the victim.” These documents are meant to protect victims from any type of abuse, threats, or harassment from their abuser, and will ensure that the abuser goes to jail if they violate the order.
Restraining order laws do vary from state to state, but generally speaking, there are four main types:
- Domestic violence: Often shortened to “DVRO,” domestic violence restraining orders are issued by the courts when the abuser is a spouse, domestic partner, someone with whom the victim has a child, relative, or roommate.
- No-contact: A no-contact order prohibits someone from being in contact with another person, whether that’s in-person, over the phone, or online. No-contact orders can only be issued once a dispute or crime has occurred, unlike a traditional restraining order, which can be used as a preventative measure.
- Temporary: Temporary restraining orders (TROs) offer victims legal protection until a hearing can be held for a permanent order. They are only effective once the victim has filed an application for a permanent order and the abuser has been served. To obtain a TRO, a victim only has to prove that they are in imminent danger from their abuser.
Even within these main types of restraining orders, there may be differences between different regions and states. Further, the specific details of the case or the needs of the survivor may change the stipulations or requirements of the restraining order.
Restraining Order Information
There are several steps you have to take to help a victim file a restraining order. Going through this process can be confusing and difficult, and you may want to consider getting legal help from an attorney. Either way, to begin the process, the victim has to go to the courthouse in the county where the abuse occurred. There, they will file a petition for a temporary order with the court clerk, in which they should explain the endured abuse as thoroughly as possible. This is also an opportunity to articulate what type of protections the victim is seeking, such as no contact from the abuser or temporary custody of a shared child.
Once the petition is submitted, a judge will review it and can then grant a temporary order. It will only last for a few days or weeks, giving either the victim or the court enough time to serve the abuser the petition for the permanent order, as well as a summons to appear in court at a hearing. The victim has to attend this hearing and explain the situation to a judge. Unlike filing the temporary order, the abuser will also have a chance to tell their side of the story in court. The judge will then decide whether or not to grant the permanent order.
If the order is granted, the victim has to make sure to actually use it when the situation calls for it. Research indicates that restraining orders can be effective at reducing violence and detering further abuse — but only if they’re enforced. The victim must contact the authorities immediately if the abuser violates the order. Otherwise, they can put themselves at risk of further harm or violence, or a judge could revoke the order altogether.
Direct Survivors to Victim Services and Treatment
Whether you’re a friend or a medical professional, it’s important to direct survivors of IPV to victim services and abuse treatment programs. There, survivors can get highly specialized help from experts who are highly familiar with how to help and support IPV victims.
Treatment options include, but aren’t limited to: therapeutic interventions, domestic violence shelters, hotline, crisis intervention counseling, education, medical care, legal assistance, advocacy groups, and community support. Depending on the victim’s unique situation, preferences, and needs, one type of treatment may be better than another; do your best to help them understand what services and treatments are available, and guide them toward the ones that will be the most help to them.
Services and Treatment for IPV Survivors
For more information regarding victim services and treatment options for IPV survivors, see the following resources:
- Legal Services Corporation: This independent nonprofit organization was established by Congress to provide civil legal assistance to low-income Americans.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: This nonprofit group offers a 24/7 phoneline that IPV victims can call for help. They work to support victims and envision a world where all relationships are free of violence.
- Promising Futures: Best Practices for Serving Children, Youth, and Parents Experiencing Domestic Violence: This website offers information and resources to larger IPV support groups and individuals who intervene to ensure they do so as safely and effectively as possible.
- Stalking Resource Center: This program provides assistance to people who have experienced stalking, including a help hotline and informational resources.
- The SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions: This IPV guide offers information, programs, and resources to people who want to make a difference in cases of IPV, from individual friends and family members to community health leaders.
- Trauma-Informed Domestic Violence Services: Understanding the Framework and Approach: This collection of resources is the first in a three-part series that offers guidance on how to create effective IPV programs and resources for medical and health professionals to help better care for survivors.
Help Survivors Access Housing
There is a strong association between survivors of IPV and homelessness. Over 92% of women who are homeless have “experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives.” Helping survivors access safe housing away from their abusers is of the utmost importance; 84% of survivors report an increase in physical safety for themselves and their children once they did get access to housing away from their abuser.
When intervening, your primary focus should be to get the victim and any of their children or dependents away from the abuser or out of imminent danger. Once they’re physically safe, you can do more research about short- and long-term housing solutions.
Housing Programs for IPV Survivors
For more information about how to help IPV survivors find housing, or for different housing options available to them, see the services offered by the following organizations:
- District Alliance for Safe Housing: DASH provides safe housing for IPV survivors in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
- Safe Housing Partnerships: This organization works to provide “training, technical assistance, and resource development at the critical intersection of domestic and sexual violence, homelessness, and housing.”
- The Women Against Abuse Safe at Home Program: In addition to providing safe housing, this program also offers relocation services, rental subsidies, and counseling to IPV survivors.
- US Department of Housing and Urban Development: This webpage from HUD covers a variety of different, useful resources to help IPV survivors access safe and affordable housing.
Take a Patient-Centered Approach
For current and future students of nursing, putting patients first and providing compassionate care is essential. When it comes to treating IPV survivors, no two victims are the same and everyone will have their own needs and preferences when it comes to treatment. Never assume that what worked for one person will work for another, and always ask them for their opinions and thoughts about their treatment. Experiencing IPV can make people feel powerless, and survivors should never have to feel that way when trying to get help.
If you want to learn more about what patient-centered resources are available to IPV survivors, see the following resources:
- Coercion Related to Mental Health and Substance Use in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence: A Toolkit: This toolkit has a focus on patient-centered care, and it’s meant to help medical and health professionals assess and treat IPV survivors in healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse settings.
- Emergency Contraception: This report explains the importance of and need for emergency contraception, especially for individuals who have experienced IPV.
- National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach: This document describes the best practices that medical and healthcare professionals should follow when handling sexual assault kits.
- National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health: This website provides a variety of different resources for mental health, substance abuse, and legal professionals so they can offer better support for IPV survivors.
- Patient Education: Care After Sexual Assault (Beyond the Basics): This article gives an overview of what victims, their friends, and their family members can do after a sexual assault.
IPV is a horrible situation that no one should ever have to endure, but if you or someone you know has experienced it, take comfort in the fact that no one has to go through it alone. There are many resources, programs, and professionals who are here to get survivors to safety and help them overcome IPV.