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Intimate Partner Violence

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is also known as domestic violence. The abuser knowingly harms his or her partner. This person tries to control or overpower the relationship by using intimidation, threats, or physical force. Most victims of domestic violence are women, but men may also be victims. There may be a pattern of an ongoing or on and off abuse. The abuser may beg for forgiveness, promise to change, or try to make up for the wrongdoing. The abuser may also act as if the violence never happened.

What are the types of intimate partner violence?

  • Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, kicking, biting, pushing, choking, pulling hair, or burning. Physical violence may also include stalking or using physical restraints, knives, or guns. Physical violence may become life-threatening.
  • Emotional abuse includes insulting, threatening, humiliating, intimidating, degrading, or harassing through words or actions. This may also involve not trusting you, acting jealous or possessive, or isolating you from family or friends. Control of your finances or refusal to share money or properties may also cause emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse is when your partner has sexual contact with you without consent. Sexual abuse includes forcing sex when you are sick, tired, or ignoring your feelings about sex. Inviting other people to join in sexual activities with you, or forcibly using objects during sex is also a sexual abuse.

What increases my risk for intimate partner violence?

  • You are in crowded living conditions.
  • You have a history of intimate partner violence or other forms of family violence.
  • You have few friends or live far from relatives.
  • You are a young woman who is single, separated, or divorced.
  • You depend on your partner for money or housing.
  • Your partner drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs.
  • Your partner has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness.
  • Your partner has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.
  • Your partner has stress due to work, taking care of you, or financial problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of intimate violence?

  • Physical and sexual violence:
    • Repeated falls or injuries, or old injuries that were not treated when they happened
    • Bruises, especially on the upper arms
    • Scratches, bite marks, or marks from objects used for restraining, such as belts, ropes, or electrical cords
    • Cuts or scars
    • Broken or dislocated bones
    • Scars or burns from cigarettes, irons, or hot water
    • Blood or discharge coming from your nose, mouth, or genitals
  • Emotional violence:
    • Feeling disturbed or frightened
    • Feeling anxious, shy, depressed, or withdrawn
    • Hopelessness or low self-esteem
    • Sleep problems
    • Sudden changes in mood or eating patterns
    • Desire to hurt yourself or other people

How is intimate partner violence diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your body closely to look for injuries caused by physical or sexual abuse. Your provider may ask you if you have been hit, slapped, injured, or touched sexually without your consent. He or she may also want to know who is abusing you and how long the abuse has been happening. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • Blood and urine tests may be done to check for health problems, such as an infection.
  • A culture and smear exam is used to take a sample of discharge from your genitals. The sample is sent to a lab for tests.
  • A pelvic exam is used in women to check for any injuries the abuse.
  • X-rays or a CT scan may be used to see if any bones have been broken or are displaced. X-rays of your chest and abdomen may also be taken. Contrast liquid may be used to help any injuries show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is intimate partner violence treated?

When you are ready, help is available. You may be able to stay in a safe shelter or have home care. Special services may be offered to keep you safe and healthy. Treatment may also include any of the following:

  • Counseling may be recommended. Intimate partner violence may cause you to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. A counselor can help you talk about how you are feeling.
  • Medicines may be given to help ease your pain. You may need antibiotic medicine or a tetanus shot if you have an open wound. Medicines may also be given if you have other medical conditions.
  • Surgery may be needed to return bones to their normal position if you have a broken bone. Surgery may also be needed to correct a deformity or treat other injuries.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Create a safety plan:
    • Prepare a bag with clothes, money, and important papers in case you need to leave your house quickly.
    • Hide an extra set of house and car keys.
    • Have a secret way to let your family or friends know you need urgent help.
    • Plan where you can go if you need to leave.
    • If you do not have a cell phone, ask your healthcare provider about emergency cell phones for 911 calls only.
    • When you are attacked, avoid rooms with one entrance (such as bathrooms) and stay out of the kitchen.
  • Contact the police. Call the police if your life or a child's life is at risk. The police can remove your abuser. Your abuser can be kept away from you if that is what you choose.
  • Think about spending one or more nights in a shelter. A women's shelter can give you a safe place to stay when you need it.
  • Ask for names and phone numbers. Get a list of phone numbers for people who can help you. People at these phone numbers can answer your questions, and tell you where to go to get help.
  • Ask about a domestic violence advocate. This is a trained healthcare provider who will talk to you about your choices. Contact with this healthcare provider is private. This person may also help you in an emergency to make sure that you are safe from your abuser.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline
    PO Box 90249
    Austin , TX 78709
    Phone: 1- 800 - 799-7233
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You fear for your life or the lives of your children.
  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You feel that you cannot cope with the abuse, or your recovery from it.
  • You have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your symptoms are getting worse.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have new symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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