Intimate partner violence (IPV), or abuse, generally refers to violence involving spouses, ex-spouses, and boyfriends or girlfriends and exes. Other phrases sometimes used include wife battering, wife abuse, intimate terrorism, and spousal violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define IPV as the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm. Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, scratching; pushing; shoving; throwing; grabbing; biting; choking; shaking; slapping; punching; burning; use of a weapon; and use of restraints or one’s body, size, or strength against another person.
Estimates of Intimate Partner Violence
Because IPV is usually more private and hidden compared with other violence, its magnitude remains in dispute. The stigma often attached to intimate partner violence, fear of retaliation from the perpetrators, and numerous other safety concerns make estimating incidence rates difficult.
Fatal Violence: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Supplementary Homicide Reports reveal that homicides between ex-spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends remained relatively stable from 1976 through 2005. During this same time, homicides between married couples significantly declined through 2001 but have remained relatively stable since then. Although the overall number of women and men murdered by their intimate partners decreased during the past few decades, this decrease was more significant for males killed by their intimate partners than for female victims. Overall, women are much more likely to be killed by their intimate partners than are men.
Nonfatal Violence: Relying on such reports as the FBI Uniform Crime Reports or the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to estimate nonfatal incidence of IPV is problematic because a high percentage of victims never report these crimes to police. Typically, IPV researchers and policymakers rely on nationally representative surveys to monitor its magnitude. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is the only ongoing survey that monitors IPV on an annual basis. To measure IPV incidents, the NCVS cues respondents to think of victimizations perpetrated by “a neighbor or friend, someone at work or school, or a family member,” rather than specifically asking respondents about incidents perpetrated by intimate partners such as spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends.
NCVS data indicate that, on average, females are assaulted by intimate partners at a rate of 6.4 per 1,000 every year compared with a rate of 1.1 for their male counterparts. This translates into more than 1 million females age 12 and older violently attacked by their intimate partners annually.
The National Violence Against Women and Men Survey (NVAWMS) asked respondents in 1995 about assaults they experienced as children and as adults, using specific screening questions about incidents of pushing, grabbing or shoving, pulling hair, slapping, hitting, and so forth. In addition to being asked about strangers or known offenders, respondents also were asked about victimizations perpetrated by all possible types of intimate or ex-intimate partners. The NVAWMS obtained higher annual rates of IPV than the NCVS: a rate of 13 per 1,000 women age 18 and over and a rate of 9 per 1,000 adult men. Significantly, this survey also examined how many women and men experienced violent attacks in their adult lives, with over 1 in 5 (22 percent) of women and 7.4 percent of men reporting an assault by an intimate partner. Similar to homicide victimization, then, both the NCVS and the NVAWMS indicate that females are more likely than males to experience nonfatal IPV.
Several factors contributed to the higher incidence rates obtained by the NVAWMS compared with the NCVS, including behaviorally specific questions, specific relationship cues regarding intimate partners, and the noncrime context of the survey. Thus, the ways in which people are asked about their victimization experiences significantly impact the number of people reporting this violence. Regardless of estimates used, however, intimate partner violence is a significant problem. For all too many women, their partner poses a greater risk for serious harm and death than does the stranger on the street.
- Bachman, Ronet. 2000. “A Comparison of Annual Incidence Rates and Contextual Characteristics of Intimate-Partner Violence against Women from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS).” Violence against Women 6(8):839-67.
- Catalano, Shannan. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ipvus).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2006. “Understanding Intimate Partner Violence.” Retrieved March 29, 2017 (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/ipv-factsheet).
- Tjaden, Patricia and Nancy Thoennes. 1998. Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. NCJ 172837. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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