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Intimate partner violence: Epidemiology and health consequences

Amy Weil, MD, FACP
Section Editor
Joann G Elmore, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
H Nancy Sokol, MD


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health problem affecting more than 32 million Americans [1]. In countries around the world, 10 to 69 percent of women report physical assault by an intimate partner at some time in their life [2].

The term "intimate partner violence" describes actual or threatened psychological, physical, or sexual harm by a current or former partner or spouse. IPV can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.

Abusive relationships often begin as verbal and emotional abuse but may become physical. Most women who are victims of physical aggression experience multiple episodes of aggression over time [3]. While "intimate terrorism," in which a passive victim in an abusive relationship lives in constant fear for the next episode of abuse, is the classic IPV paradigm, IPV may be mutual/bidirectional ("situational violence") or may take the form of "violent resistance," in which the identified victim fights back [4].

The underlying psychological dynamic in most types of violence is power and control of the victim by the abuser. The assumption that, within a heterosexual relationship, all violence is initiated by men and directed towards women is not correct, although women are far more likely to experience IPV than men [2].

This topic will review the epidemiology and health consequences of intimate partner violence. Screening and diagnosis of IPV is discussed separately, as is management for patients in whom IPV is diagnosed. (See "Intimate partner violence: Diagnosis and screening" and "Intimate partner violence: Intervention and patient management".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Sep 26, 2016.
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