About Abuse

What Is Intimate Partner Violence? 

Intimate partner violence is a pattern of violent, coercive behavior used by one partner in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over another partner in the relationship. 

  • Partners may be spouses, former spouses, live-in partners, former live-in partners, or parents of a shared child.
  • Intimate partner violence can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse.
  • Abuse can be present in any relationship, regardless of race, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation, income, or education.
  • Abuse can begin at any point in a relationship and escalate slowly or quickly.

Intimate partner violence is often used interchangeably with domestic violence. Domestic violence refers to violence committed against anyone in a household, including partners, family members, and other people in the household, whereas intimate partner violence refers to violence committed within an intimate relationship.

Physical Abuse 

Physical abuse is a pattern of physical violence that leads to physical harm. It includes behaviors such as hitting, punching, kicking, shoving, slapping, strangling, smothering, using or threatening to use weapons, interrupting sleep, throwing things, destroying property, hurting or killing pets, and denying medical treatment.

Sexual Abuse 

Sexual abuse is a pattern of unwanted sexual activity. Experiencing sexual abuse often leads to feelings of shame and humiliation. Sexual abuse includes physically forcing sex, making someone feel afraid to refuse sex, forcing sex with other partners, forcing participation in demeaning or degrading sexual acts, violence or name calling during sex, denying or sabotaging contraception, and denying protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

Emotional Abuse 

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviors intended to make a person question their reality, lose their sense of self-worth, or feel hopeless so it is easier for an abuser to control and manipulate them. Emotional abuse can include constant put downs or criticisms, name calling, gaslighting, threats, acting superior, minimizing the abuse, blaming the victim for the abuse, isolating the victim from family and friends, excessive jealously, accusing the victim of being unfaithful, and watching where the victim goes and who they talk to.

Financial Abuse 

Financial abuse is a method of trapping someone in a relationship by intentionally making them financially dependent on their partner. It is a powerful form of abuse, so powerful that many people who have experienced intimate partner violence describe it as the main reason that they stayed in an abusive relationship or went back to one. Financial abuse can include giving a victim an allowance, withholding a victim’s own money, interfering with a victim’s job, hiding family assets, running up debt, and ruining a victim’s credit score.

Abuse is never the fault of the abused. If you experience these "red flags," you can confide in a friend or reach out for support from an intimate partner violence advocate. If you believe a friend or relative is being abused, offer your nonjudgmental support and help.

What are the red flags of abuse? 

  • They want to move too quickly into the relationship. 
  • They flatter you constantly early in the relationship and seem "too good to be true." 
  • They want you all to themself; they insist that you stop spending time with your friends or family. 
  • They insist that you stop participating in hobbies or activities, quit school, or quit your job. 
  • They do not honor your boundaries.  
  • They are excessively jealous and accuse you of being unfaithful.  
  • They want to know where you are all of the time and frequently call, email, and text you throughout the day.  
  • They criticize you or put you down and tell you that you are “crazy,” “stupid,” “unattractive,” or that “no one else would ever want or love you.”  
  • They blame others for their behavior, taking no responsibility. 
  • They have a history of abusing others.  
  • They blame the entire failure of previous relationships on their former partners; for example, "My ex was totally crazy."  
  • They take your money or run up your credit card debt.  
  • They rage out of control when alone with you but maintain composure around others.

Other Types of Interpersonal Violence

Dating Violence 

Dating violence happens when one person purposely hurts or scares someone they are dating. Dating violence can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence happens when someone coerces or forces someone else to participate in unwanted sexual activity without express consent. Sexual violence can be verbal, visual, or physical and can include sex with an intoxicated person; intimate contact with someone who is able to consent, such as a child; groping or unwanted sexual touching; stalking; verbal coercion; harassment; forcing a person to perform sexual acts on the perpetrator, such as giving oral or penetrative sex. Sexual violence can be committed by anyone, including acquaintances, friends, family members, and strangers. A pattern of sexual violence is referred to as sexual abuse.


Stalking is a pattern of behavior exhibited by someone else that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger. Stalking happens when someone repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don’t want them to, or threatens you. You can be stalked by a stranger, someone you know casually, a past or current friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a current or former partner or spouse.

Additional Learning Resources