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What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a learned pattern of physical, verbal, sexual and/or emotional behavior in which one person in a relationship uses force and intimidation to dominate or control the other person. The partners may be married or not; heterosexual or homosexual; living together, separated, dating, have a child in common; or related by blood. Domestic violence occurs within all ethnic groups, all religions, all economic brackets, all degrees of physical and mental ableness; all categories of sexual preference and all age groups.

Incidents of domestic violence may lead to a number of criminal charges, for example: battery, attempted murder, trespassing, intimidation, stalking, harassment, or sexual assault.

Domestic violence is NOT a lack of control.

Domestic violence is complete and total control; the abusive person knows EXACTLY what s/he is doing and why.

Women are NOT "just as violent as men"; 80-95% of domestic assaults are perpetuated by heterosexual men upon heterosexual women.

Types of Domestic Violence-

Physical Abuse- pinching; shoving; kicking; grabbing; jerking; slapping; punching; spitting on; pulling hair or ears; scratching; strangling; twisting arms; bending back fingers or toes; restraining against will; throwing out of a vehicle; dragging; imprisoning; throwing objects at; burning; throwing down stairs, against a wall or furniture, etc.

Sexual Abuse- rape (often after a battery or when victim is asleep); forcing to perform degrading and/or humiliating acts; forcing victim to "perform" in front of others or her children; forcing victim to "pose" for degrading and/or humiliating pictures, etc.

Emotional Abuse- name-calling; put downs; insults; extreme "jealousy" (possessiveness); criticism; sexual "jokes"; degrading references; withholding affection as her "punishment"; "jokes" concerning the victim’s appearance, mannerisms, faults, gender; threats and intimidation; insulting victim’s abilities as a mother, wife, lover; resenting and/or mistreating children because of attention victim shows her children; accusing victim of having affairs; telling victim about his affairs; threatening to abuse and/or take children away from victim; threatening to kill self and/or children if she tries to leave him; threatening to assault others (victim’s mother, sisters, best friend) if she tries to leave him; screaming and yelling; ignoring victim when she is trying to talk to him; demanding that victim account for every minute of her day; icy silences; "teaching" her a lesson; disregard and/or total dislike of women; gross selfishness; dishonesty; male entitlement; manipulation; arrogance; always blaming his decisions and behaviors on victim; exploiting any perceived weakness the victim may have; Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde syndrome; etc.

Economic Abuse- Economic abuse occurs where the man has control over all financial resources. For example, he may forbid the woman to work, or, if she does, he may insist that she hand over her paycheck to him. She may have to beg for money to buy necessities and when it is given, it may often be insufficient. She is then criticized for being stupid and incompetent in failing to provide adequately with her "allowance".

Social Abuse- Behaviors included in social abuse are: delivering verbal abuse in front of other people, such as: put-downs, "jokes", criticisms about woman’s weight, appearance, sexuality, intelligence, etc.; controlling behaviors such as following her to work, controlling access to friends, constant phone calls at work, or accusations of imagined affairs etc.; isolating a woman by denigrating her friends and family, thus leading her to cut herself off from them; locking the woman in or out of the house, cutting off the telephone, never letting her use the car, etc. Social abuse is the constant monitoring and control of a woman’s activities, outings, and friendships.

Power & Control Wheel

Equality Wheel

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence

For additional statistical information please see:

Intimate Partner Violence: Fact Sheet


  • Nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. This violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths (CDC 2003).
  • Estimates indicate more than 1 million women and 371,000 men are stalked by intimate partners each year (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000b).
  • Intimate partner violence occurs across all populations, irrespective of social, economic, religious, or cultural group. However, young women and those below the poverty line are disproportionately affected (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002).
  • Nearly 25% of women have been raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and more than 40% of the women who experience partner rapes and physical assaults sustain a physical injury (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000b).
  • As many as 324,000 women each year experience IPV during their pregnancy (Gazmararian et al. 2000).
  • Intimate partner violence accounted for 20% of all nonfatal violent crime experienced by women in 2001 (Rennison 2003).
  • Forty-four percent of women murdered by their intimate partner had visited an emergency department within 2 years of the homicide, 93% of whom had at least one injury visit (Crandall et al. 2004).
  • Firearms were the major weapon type used in intimate partner homicides from 1981 to 1998 (Paulozzi et al. 2001).



  • Women with a history of IPV report 60% higher rates of all health problems than do women with no history of abuse (Campbell et al. 2002).
  • IPV victims report lasting negative health problems, such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome, which can interfere with or limit daily functioning (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002).
  • The more severe the abuse, the greater its impact on a women’s physical and mental health, resulting in a cumulative effect over time (Leserman et al. 1996) (Koss, Koss and Woodruff 1991).
  • Intimate partner violence also affects reproductive health and can lead to gynecological disorders, unwanted pregnancy, premature labor and birth, and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS (Heise, Moore and Toubia 1995).
  • IPV victims have a higher prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, hysterectomy, and heart or circulatory conditions (He et al. 1998).


  • Adolescents involved with an abusive partner report increased levels of depressed mood, substance use, antisocial behavior, and, in females, suicidal behavior (Roberts, Klein and Fisher 2003).
  • Abused girls and women often experience adverse mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (Mercy et al. 2003).
  • Women with a history of IPV are more likely to display behaviors that present further health risks, such as substance abuse, alcoholism, and increased risk of suicide attempts (Coker et al. 2000).


  • Researchers report that children who witness IPV are at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders, developmental problems, school failure, violence against others, and low self-esteem (Nelson et al. 2004).
  • Women in violent relationships have been found to be restricted in the way they gain access to services, take part in public life, and receive emotional support from friends and relatives (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002).


  • The costs of IPV against women exceed an estimated $5.8 billion. These costs include nearly $4.1 billion in the direct costs of medical and mental health care and nearly $1.8 billion in the indirect costs of lost productivity (CDC 2003).
  • Victims of IPV lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity each year as a result of the violence (CDC 2003).

Lloyd and Taluc (1999) found that women who experienced male-perpetrated IPV were more likely to experience spells of unemployment, have health problems, and be welfare recipients.


  • Both men and women experience IPV. However, women are 2 to 3 times more likely to report an intimate partner pushed grabbed or shoved them and 7 to 14 times more likely to report an intimate partner beat them up, choked them, or tied them down (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000a).
  • American Indian/Alaska Native women and men report more violent victimization than do women and men of other racial backgrounds (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000b).
  • In the United States, researchers estimate that 40% to 70% of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, frequently in the context of an ongoing abusive relationship (Bailey et al. 1997).
  • In a survey of boys and girls ages 8 to 12 years, girls cited concerns about IPV while boys did not consider IPV an issue (Sheehan, Kim and Galvin 2004).
  • Hispanic women are more likely than non-Hispanic women to report instances of intimate partner rape (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000a).


A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of perpetrating IPV. To understand and prevent IPV, it is important to understand and identify these risk factors. A risk factor is anything that increases the likelihood that a person will perpetrate IPV. However, risk factors are not necessarily causes and not everyone who is identified as "at-risk" becomes involved in violence.

Risk factors exist at each level of the social ecology, which contribute to IPV perpetration. At the individual level, risk factors include attitudes and beliefs; at the relational level, risk factors include interpersonal and verbal interactions and family/relationship norms. At the community level and the larger societal level, risk factors include social norms and institutional structures, policies, and procedures.

Individual Factors for Perpetrating IPV

Recent research reviews of male perpetrators link several risk factors to IPV (Black et al. 1999; Harway and O’Neil 1999):

  • Young age
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low income
  • Low academic achievement
  • Involvement in aggressive or delinquent behavior as a youth
  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence as a child
  • Lack of social networks and social isolation
  • Unemployment

Relationship Factors for Perpetrating IPV

Recent research reviews link several relational risk factors to IPV perpetration (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002; Kantor and Jasinski 1998; Harway and O’Neil 1999):

  • Marital conflict
  • Marital instability
  • Male dominance in the family
  • Poor family functioning
  • Emotional dependence and insecurity
  • Belief in strict gender roles
  • Desire for power and control in relationships
  • Exhibiting anger and hostility toward a partner

Community Factors for Perpetrating IPV

Recent research reviews link several community risk factors to perpetrating IPV (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002; Counts, Brown and Campbell 1992):

  • Poverty
  • Low social capital
  • Factors associated with poverty such as overcrowding, hopelessness, stress, frustration
  • Weak sanctions against domestic violence


To understand and prevent IPV, it is important to understand and identify vulnerability factors. A vulnerability factor is anything that increases the likelihood that a person will experience IPV. However, vulnerability factors are not necessarily causes and exist without the occurrence of IPV. The following vulnerability factors increase the likelihood of experiencing IPV:

Individual Factors Increasing Vulnerability to IPV

Recent research reviews identify several individual vulnerability factors related to IPV (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000a; Crandall et al. 2004; Rennison 2000):

  • History of physical abuse
  • Prior injury from the same partner
  • Having a verbally abusive partner
  • Economic stress
  • Partner history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Childhood abuse
  • Being under the age of 24

Relationship Factors Increasing Vulnerability to IPV

Recent research reviews identify several relational vulnerability factors related to IPV (Heise and Garcia-Moreno 2002):

  • Marital conflict
  • Marital instability
  • Male dominance in the family
  • Poor family functioning


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Black DA, et al. Partner, child abuse risk factor literature review: national network of family resiliency, national network for health [online]. 1999. [cited Aug 2004]. Available at:

Campbell J, Jones AS, Dienemann J, Kub J, Schollenberger J, O’Campo P, et al. Intimate partner violence and physical health consequences. Archives of Internal Medicine 2002;162(10):1157–63.

Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, Block C, Campbell D, Curry MA, et al. Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93(7):1089–97.

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Coker AL, Amith PH, Bethea L, King MR, McKeown RE. Physical health consequence of physical and psychological intimate partner violence. Arch Fam Med 2000;9:451.

Counts DA, Brown J, Campbell J. Sanctions and sanctuary: cultural perspectives on the beating of wives. Boulder (CO): Westview Press; 1992.

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Gazmararian JA, Petersen R, Spitz AM, Goodwin MM, Saltzman LE, Marks JS. Violence and reproductive health: current knowledge and future research directions. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2000;4(2):79–84.

Harway M, O’Neil JM, editors. What causes men’s violence against women? Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage; 1999.

He H, McCoy HV, Stevens SJ, Stark MJ. Violence and HIV sexual risk behaviors among female sex partners of male drug users. Women’s Health 1998:27:161–75.

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Sheehan K, Kim LE, Galvin JP. Urban Children’s Perceptions of Violence. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2004; 158(1):74-77.

Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, research report. Washington (DC): U.S. Department of Justice; 2000a. Report for grant 93-IJ-CX-0012, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Publication No. NCJ 181867. Available at

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