Intimate partner violence (IPV) is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. It can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy. IPV is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of people in the United States and throughout the world. In many societies this type of violence is considered “normal.” It varies in frequency and severity and occurs on a continuum, ranging from one hit that may or may not impact the victim to chronic, severe battering (CDC, 2008; WHO, 2010).
The terms domestic violence, family violence, wife beating, battering, spouse abuse, and dating violence are often used interchangeably. However, in an effort to facilitate the collection of data and make comparisons among jurisdictions, an effort is being made to use a consistent definition and the CDC advocates the definition of IPV as noted above (CDC, 2008).
Just as intimate partner violence can be thought of as a continuum, domestic violence may also encompass child abuse when children are physically and psychologically harmed when IPV occurs, and elder abuse when the perpetrator is an intimate partner.
Although women can be violent to men, the vast majority of intimate partner violence is perpetrated by men against women. From 1976 to 2005, U.S. Department of Justice statistics showed that about 96% of women who experienced IPV were victimized by a man, while only about 3% reported that the offender was another woman (Catalano, 2007).
Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Fatal incidents of intimate partner violence—sometimes referred to as “intimate homicide”—have declined in the United States since 1976. Between 1976 and 2005 the number of white females killed by intimates rose in the mid-1980s, then declined after 1993, reaching the lowest recorded numbers in 2002. The number of intimate homicides for all other race and gender groups declined over the same period; the number of black males killed by intimates dropped by 83%, white males by 61%, black females by 52%, and white females by 6% (Catalano, 2007).
Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Describing trends based on law enforcement statistics can be problematic, however. In the United States less than one-fifth of the women raped by an intimate partner reported their most recent rape to the police. In a National Violence Against Women (NVAW) survey, most women and men who were physically assaulted failed to file a complaint, although women were more likely than men to report their victimization to the police (26.7% and 13.5%, respectively) (Tjaden and Thoennes, 2000).
This reluctance to report intimate partner violence to authorities is also a problem internationally. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey of more than 24,000 women in ten countries, more than half of the physically abused women surveyed reported that they had never sought help from a health service, shelter, legal service, or anyone in any position of authority such as police, religious leaders, or other government organizations (WHO, 2005).