How to Identify and Prevent Intimate Partner Violence

Learn about the signs, risks, and prevention of IPV

In This Article

Domestic violence, recently referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), has become known as a common invisible crime. It is considered invisible because it is usually cloaked in a high level of shame and secrecy. An intimate partner is a boyfriend, girlfriend, sexual partner, spouse, or domestic partner with whom a person is currently or formerly connected. The dynamics behind IPV are intertwined within common patterns of behavior: the initial tension building phase, the acute battering phase, and the honeymoon phase. These cycles feed into the denial, confusion and bewildering effects that domestic abuse leaves on its victims.

IPV is becoming known as a United States public health crisis. The question remains: is IPV preventable? If so, what are the proven strategies that have been shown to lower the incidence of this prevalent form of violence?

Phases of IPV

To understand how to prevent IPV, one must first be able to identify it. Three phases of domestic abuse were conceptualized in the late 1970s by psychologist Lenore Walker. 

Phase 1: The Tension Building Phase

This phase describes the build-up to domestic abuse. Events during this phase might include fighting over money, kids, jobs, or other circumstances. This is where verbal abuse usually begins. In time, this “tension” peaks as it leads to the full-blown physical abuse phase.

Phase 2: The Acute Battering Episode

This phase is most often a result of some type of external event (such as the loss of a job, a new pregnancy or another external occurrence). It may also be the result of the emotional state of the abuser—a common example is when the abuser is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The impetus that sets off the abuser is commonly unpredictable. Interestingly, a victim may entice the abuse to begin in order to release the tension and move into the final stage.

Phase 3: The Honeymoon Phase

This is the part of the abuse cycle that helps to cement the relationship and convince the victim that there is no reason to leave. In this phase, the abuser is remorseful, apologetic, and exhibits a sincere effort to be generous and helpful. This is usually followed by a persuasive apology and a vow to never repeat the abuse in the future.

It is important to understand that intimate partner violence does not usually occur overnight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reports that “IPV is a serious preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans and occurs across the lifespan.” It is a process that worsens with time and gradually degrades the victim’s self-esteem, hope for a better life, and belief that they deserve anything better. IPV does not commonly occur in a single event, and it rarely stops, once it begins

Types of Violence

Because of the prevalence of rape victims resulting from IPV, many research institutions consider it a reproductive health issue in the United States. In fact, according to a recent Guttmacher Institute publication, IPV “disproportionately impacts women, and has profound implications for their sexual and reproductive health and autonomy.” The article goes on to explain that one in 10 women who have experienced violence by an intimate partner have also reported being raped. Statistics on IPV reported by the CDC also include:

  • Approximately 23 percent of women and 14 percent of men in the United States report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.
  • Nearly 16 percent of women and 7 percent of men report having experienced sexual violence (including rape).

The CDC also reports that the impact of IPV (including sexual, physical violence, or stalking) varies for different racial/ethnic groups.

Furthermore, the study indicates that the rates of intimate partner violence vary based on a person's sexual orientation.

Identifying IPV

There are many common abusive acts that are associated with IPV.

  • Aggression or violence perpetrated by a current (or past) intimate partner
  • Stalking
  • Psychological aggression through various tactics (including coercion)
  • Physical violence
  • Sexual Violence (including rape)
  • Acts of seeking power and control over an intimate partner
  • Reproductive coercion (an attempt to force a partner into initiating, keeping or terminating a pregnancy) 
  • Coercive tactics (via phone, electronic devices, or face-to-face contact)

The impact of IPV can largely vary. However, the common effects usually include a wide range of negative outcomes on each partner and on their family members. There may be economic instability, a range of mental health consequences, physical problems, and a negative impact on reproductive health and autonomy.

The negative impact IPV can have on reproductive health and autonomy include premature births, unplanned pregnancies, and more.

Common Risks

The CDC has identified some common high-risk factors linked to intimate partner violence.

  • Age (adolescents and young adults are most at risk)
  • Low income
  • Unemployment
  • Exposure to violence during childhood
  • Abuse or neglect during childhood
  • Stress, anxiety, and antisocial personality traits
  • Condoning violence in relationships
  • Adhering to a belief in strict gender roles (such as women should not work outside the home)
  • Prior involvement in a relationship involving domestic violence or peer violence
  • History of substance abuse or delinquency
  • Hostility or conflict in prior relationships ending in separation or breakup
  • Living in a neighborhood that is considered poverty level or with low willingness of neighbors to get involved 

There are also high-risk factors identified by the CDC for perpetrators of IPV. Interestingly, there are many similarities between the risk factors of victims and of perpetrators alike.

  • Age (adolescents and young adults are most at risk)
  • Low income or low educational attainment
  • Unemployment
  • Exposure to violence during childhood
  • Experiencing child abuse, neglect or poor parenting as a child
  • Stress, anxiety or antisocial personality traits
  • Condoning violence in relationships
  • Prior perpetration or victimization of IPV
  • Engaging in peer violence or being a perpetrator of peer violence
  • History of substance abuse or delinquency
  • Having a hostile communication style
  • Hostility or conflict in prior relationships ending in separation or breakup
  • Poverty in the community or living in a neighborhood with a low willingness of neighbors to get involved

Prevention

With the common factors of IPV identified and an awareness of how prevalent this form of violence is, the question remains: what can be done about it?

According to the CDC, a growing body of evidence has discovered that early intervention is the key to preventing future involvement in violent relationships for perpetrators as well as victims.

There are several interventions proven to be effective, says the CDC. These include: 

  • Strengthening financial security in the household. Financial insecurity increases the risk of IPV—lack of money to support the family commonly predisposes the victim to stay in the abusive relationship. This is due to the lack of the ability to afford the expense of moving or paying for household expenses on the victim's own. Programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could be of assistance. 
  • Work-family support programs. Employers that offer policies such as maternity leave and sick leave for parents with ill children can help lower the incidence of IPV. Maternity leave has been found to increase the likelihood of women maintaining long-term employment. This helps victims of domestic abuse increase the household income. In addition, women who delay working after childbirth are less likely to suffer from depression than those who return from maternity leave sooner.
  • Programs that support survivors. Addressing some of the negative outcomes of IPV (sexually transmitted diseases, chronic pain, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and more) have been found to be effective in lowering rates of IPV. Children in families impacted by domestic violence are also at risk for depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. Survivors need help for everything from treating physical and emotional disorders, to getting support for housing instability in order to prevent future risk of domestic abuse. Two pieces of legislation created to address these needs are The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.
  • Prevention, education and screening programs. IPV screening, education, and intervention have been shown to decrease the risk of domestic violence. These programs have been shown to have positive potential outcomes for survivors of IPV and their children. Other interventions shown to lower the prevalence of IPV are domestic violence centers, family housing programs and first responder programs that intervene with domestic violence in the family.

The potential benefits of IPV prevention programs include:

  • Housing stability
  • Increase in physical safety
  • Reduction of future IPV experiences
  • Reduction of PTSD, depression, and anxiety
  • Improvement in positive parenting skills
  • Decrease in verbal and physical aggression among the children of IPV survivors
  • Reduction of homicide incidence resulting from IPV
  • Higher birth weights and improvement in other pregnancy outcomes for women
  • Reductions in the rate of reproductive coercion and unplanned pregnancy

A Word From Verywell

The impact of intimate partner violence is multi-dimensional and occurs across all aspects of the lifespan. Knowing the incidence of occurrence, the signs, risk factors, and prevention measures can help a person to effectively end the cycle and break the silence involved in domestic abuse for the individuals involved.

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