Learning About Intimate Partner Violence

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What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is a type of domestic abuse. It's threatening, emotionally harmful, or violent behavior in a personal relationship. It can happen between past or current partners or spouses. In some relationships both people abuse each other. One partner may be more abusive. Or the abuse may be equal.

Abuse can affect people of any ethnic group, race, or religion. It can affect teens, adults, or the elderly. And it can happen to people of any sexual orientation, gender, or social status.

Abusers use fear, bullying, and threats to control their partners. They may control what their partners do. They may control where their partners go or who they see. They may act jealous, controlling, or possessive. These early signs of abuse may happen soon after the start of the relationship. Sometimes it can be hard to notice abuse at first. But after the relationship becomes more serious, the abuse may get worse.

If you are being abused in your relationship, it's important to get help. The abuse is not your fault. You don't have to face it alone.

Be careful

It may not be safe to take home domestic abuse information like this handout. Some people ask a trusted friend to keep it for them. It's also important to plan ahead and to memorize the phone number of places you can go for help. If you are concerned about your safety, do not use your computer, smartphone, or tablet to read about domestic abuse.

What are the types of intimate partner violence?

Abuse can happen in different ways. Each type can happen on its own or in combination with others.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is a pattern of threats, insults, or controlling behavior. It includes verbal abuse. It goes beyond healthy disagreements in a relationship. It's a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

Do you feel threatened, intimidated, or controlled?

Does your partner:

  • Threaten your children, other family members, or pets?
  • Use jokes meant to embarrass or shame you?
  • Call you names?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent?
  • Threaten to take away your children?
  • Threaten to have you or your family members deported?
  • Control your access to money or other basic needs?
  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to, or where you go?

Another form of emotional abuse is denying that it is happening. Or the abuser may act like the abuse is no big deal or is your fault.

Sexual abuse

With sexual abuse, abusers may try to convince or force you to have sex. They may force you into sex acts you're not comfortable with. Or they may sexually assault you. Sexual abuse can happen even if you are in a committed relationship.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse means that a partner hits, kicks, or does something else to physically hurt you. Physical abuse that starts with a slap might lead to kicking, shoving, and choking over time. The abuser may also threaten to hurt or kill you.


Stalking means that an abuser gives you attention that you do not want and that causes you fear. Examples of stalking include:

  • Following you.
  • Showing up at places where the abuser isn't invited, such as at your work or school.
  • Constantly calling or texting you.

What problems can it lead to?

Intimate partner violence can be very dangerous. It can cause serious, repeated injury. It can even lead to death.

All forms of abuse can cause long-term health problems from the stress of a violent relationship. Verbal abuse can lead to sexual and physical abuse.

Abuse causes:

  • Emotional pain.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress.

Sexual abuse can lead to sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV/AIDS) and unplanned pregnancy.

Pregnancy can be a very dangerous time for people in abusive relationships. Abuse can cause or increase the risk of problems during pregnancy. These include low weight gain, anemia, infections, and bleeding. Abuse may also increase your baby's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and death.

It can be hard for some victims of abuse to ask for help or to leave their relationship. You may feel scared, stuck, or not sure what steps to take. But it's important not to ignore abuse. Talking to someone you trust could be the first step to ending the abuse and taking care of your own health and happiness again. There are resources available that can help keep you safe.

Where can you get help?

Talk to a trusted friend. Find a local advocacy group, or talk to your doctor about the abuse.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) for more safety tips. They can guide you to groups in your area that can help. Or go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at www.thehotline.org to learn more.

Domestic violence groups or a counselor in your area can help you make a safety plan for yourself and your children.

When to call for help

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You think that you or someone you know is in danger of being abused.
  • You have been hurt and can't have someone safely take you to emergency care.
  • You have just been abused.
  • A family member has just been abused.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter S665 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Intimate Partner Violence".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.