What You Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

Thankfully, there are resources available that can help you—or someone you know—safely leave a dangerous situation.

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Medically reviewed in June 2022

Updated on June 13, 2022

Homicide, or murder, is a leading cause of death for women under 45 years old. About half of women and girls who die by homicide are killed by intimate partner violence (IPV) committed by a current or former male intimate partner. Intimate partner violence is a broad term that can include different forms of abuse committed by an intimate partner, such as physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.

According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which collected data from 10,018 female homicides between 2003 and 2014, minority women are targeted most often. In the study, Black women experienced the highest rates of death by homicide, followed by American Indian or Alaskan Native women, Hispanic women, non-Hispanic white women, and finally women of Asian or Pacific Island descent. 

To collect data, researchers looked at police reports, death certificates, and medical examiner reports for women over age 18 in eighteen states across the United States. They found that women of all ages—from 18 to 100—were affected. Among women of childbearing age, 15 percent were pregnant or had given birth within six weeks of their death.

While many female victims were single or unmarried, over 55 percent were killed by a former or current male intimate partner. In fact, 79 percent of IPV homicides were committed by a current partner.

Researchers have also found that rates of IPV tend to be significantly higher among transgender people, irrespective of gender at birth.

Recognizing the warning signs
The CDC stresses that IPV affects people of every age, gender, race, ethnicity, and economic class. In fact, more than 36 percent of women and nearly 34 percent of men in the U.S. have experienced IPV in their lifetimes. More than half of transgender and non-binary people report IPV at some point, as well, a 2018 study from the Human Rights Campaign found.

This violence includes contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, published by the CDC in November 2018. (“Contact sexual violence” is a term that encompasses rape, being forced to penetrate another person, sexual coercion, and unwanted sexual contact.)

When someone is in a violent partner dynamic, they don’t always have the resources or ability to seek help. But there are often red flags that signal they’re in danger. About 1 in 10 women in the 2017 CDC report experienced violence, such as assault, sexual assault, or rape during the month leading up to their death. Events like these are opportunities for others to intervene.

What can you do?
If you’re experiencing violence or abuse of any kind, know there are people and resources that can help, regardless of your age, income, or immigration status. In a situation where your life or safety is immediately at risk, choose escape as your first option, rather than attempting to stay and fight. As soon as possible, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you are not in crisis and have more time, enlist the help of professionals to create a safe escape plan. These organizations can help:

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY). Operators are available 24 hours a day and offer services in a wide variety of languages. They can help you decide on a course of action and connect you with local resources, including shelters in your area. The organization's online guide to safety planning is another valuable resource.
  • Call the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474 or 866-331-8453 (TTY) or chat online at loveisrespect.org.
  • Use WomensHealth.gov to look up resources by state.

Keep the following tips in mind during the planning process, as well. They can help ensure a safer experience for you and other family members while you are gearing up to go:

  • Use a public computer (like at the library) and a disposable phone when planning an escape since an abuser could monitor your phone or computer history. 
  • Make an extra set of keys and hide them in case you need to flee. Once you’re safely away from active danger, search your car for tracking devices and remove them. Turn off the Find My iPhone feature on your mobile phone.
  • Create a code word or a symbol with a trusted friend for emergency situations. For example, you could tell your neighbor to call 911 if the porch light isn’t on at night.

How to help others
If you suspect another person is being abused, here’s what you can do:

  • Listen more than you talk. You don’t know how they’re feeling and you can’t give them all the answers.
  • Tell them you’re their safety net. Let them know they’re not alone and that you’ll help however you can.
  • Know that abusers often isolate partners from their support network. Be patient and supportive, even if the person doesn’t always seem receptive to your help.
  • Don’t tell them what to do, but do offer specific help. For example, you could say you’ll pick the kids up from school or research shelters from the safety of your home computer.
  • Make an emergency plan together. Agree on a code word or signal that means they need immediate help. Know exactly what to do in that situation.
  • Understand they might not leave their abuser. Continue to support them and do everything you can to keep them safe anyway. 

If you’re not sure how you can help another person with their specific situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY).

Article sources open article sources

Petrosky E, Blair JM, et al. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence — United States, 2003–2014. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report 2017;66:741–746.
Peitzmeier SM, Malik M, et al. Intimate Partner Violence in Transgender Populations: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prevalence and Correlates. American Journal of Public Health. Published online August 12, 2020. 
Human Rights Campaign. Dismantling a Culture of Violence. Understanding Anti-Transgender Violence and Ending the Crisis. 2018. Accessed June 13, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence Prevention: Infographic About Intimate Partner Violence. April 30, 2020. Accessed June 8, 2022.
Stein, A. (2014). Cupid’s knife: Women’s anger and agency in violent relationships. New York; London: Routledge. EBook ISBN: 1317963768.
Office on Women’s Health. Domestic or intimate partner violence. February 15, 2021.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. Create a Safety Plan. 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Adult health: Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. April 14, 2022.
Office on Women’s Health. How to help a friend who is being abused. February 15, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release. November 2018.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. Domestic Violence Statistics. 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence Prevention: Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Among Men. June 1, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2022.

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