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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

October is Domestic Violence Prevention and Awareness Month

10/16/15 08:59 AM | Rachel Latta | Trauma, Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is a societal problem that we all have responsibility to end. Figuring out how we can best respond can be overwhelming. The first step is learning about intimate partner violence (IPV). In this blog, I provide basic information on the definition, prevalence, and effects of IPV. Later this month, we will hear different voices about the intersection of homelessness and IPV. The more we understand about these problems, the more we can end IPV in our communities and our society. Will you join me in the effort to end IPV?

What is intimate partner violence (IPV)?

IPV is any actual or threatened psychological, physical, or sexual violence or stalking behavior that occurs by a current or former partner. IPV can vary in frequency and severity. It can happen to people of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, race/ethnicities, and socioeconomic status. It does not require that partners live together or engage in sexual intimacy.  

The CDC has recently updated the definition of intimate partner:

An intimate partner is a person with whom one has a close personal relationship characterized by the following: emotional connectedness, regular contact, ongoing physical contact and sexual behavior, identity as a couple, familiarity and knowledge of each other’s lives. The relationship does not need to involve all of these behaviors

What is the difference between intimate partner violence and domestic violence?

Domestic violence is the most common term used to describe violence that occurs between two partners. Technically, domestic violence refers to ANY violence or abuse that occurs within the domestic realm—and so includes child abuse, elder abuse, abuse between two non-intimate adults. IPV is used to refer to violence that occurs between two intimate partners as the dynamics of this type of violence and the response is unique.

How common is intimate partner violence?

The answer to this is not straight forward. Several issues make it difficult to estimate the rate of IPV in the population. First is the lack of a standard definition of IPV. Some studies only include physical violence, while others include physical and psychological violence. Second is the source of the data. Generally, studies use two ways to estimate IPV: self-report and law enforcement data. We know that IPV and sexual assault are vastly underreported, so neither of these methods provides a true picture of the prevalence of this problem. 

Even with these difficulties, the numbers we do have demonstrate that IPV is a serious public health problem that has reached epidemic proportions.

  • Self-report statistics, such as those gathered by the CDC through their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, find that:
    • Nearly 1 in 4 women (22.3%) report severe physical violence in their lifetime. 
    • 1 in 7 men (14%) report severe physical violence in their lifetime.

The good news is that our efforts to raise awareness and intervene have had a dramatic effect. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall rate of IPV declined by 64% from 1994 to 2010.

What are the effects of experiencing intimate partner violence?

IPV, as with other types of ongoing traumatic experiences, influences every domain of functioning.

What is the cost of IPV to society at large?

It is hard to estimate the tremendous toll IPV takes on our families, communities, healthcare systems, and societal well-being. The CDC reported that "the costs of intimate partner rape, physical assault, and stalking exceed $5.8 billion each year;  nearly $4.1 billion is for direct medical and mental health care services." 



If you or someone you love is facing intimate partner violence, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support


For more information on intimate partner violence:



t3 resources:

Check out Rachel’s upcoming course: How Does Trauma Affect the Brain? 

If you are a service provider working with people experiencing IPV, implementing trauma-informed care throughout your organization will help improve services. Use the TICOMETER, an online instrument that measures the level of trauma-informed care in your agency.


Image by Molly Richard

Rachel Latta

Written by Rachel Latta

Rachel Latta, Ph.D. is the Director of Trauma Initiatives at the Center for Social Innovation. Since 1999, she has worked with low-income and homeless men and women facing trauma, poverty, and mental illness with a focus on intimate partner violence. Rachel is a passionate advocate for social justice and equality and brings her feminist framework to the most rewarding and challenging role in her life, that of mother to three small boys.