Domestic violence, which encompasses intimate partner violence,* refers to physical, sexual or psychological harm done to an individual by a current or former partner or spouse. Domestic violence is associated with a range of physical and mental health effects.
Domestic violence can affect anyone and is, unfortunately, common. More than one in three women, and one in four men, have experienced physical violence, rape or stalking victimization by an intimate partner in their lifetime.1 Domestic violence accounts for about 20% of all violent crimes. More than half of transgender and nonbinary people (54%) have experience from some type of intimate partner violence in their lives.3
Domestic violence can involve4:
- Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
- Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
- Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
- Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm a partner mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over a partner.
Although domestic violence affects individuals across race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic background, it is most prevalent among adolescents and young.5 Women of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds experience disproportionately high rates. Other risk factors for domestic violence include low income and lower educational status, exposure to adverse childhood experiences, being unemployed, and being a member of a sexual minority. In addition, women with severe mental health difficulties are more likely to be victims of domestic violence.6 Regardless, given the high prevalence of IPV, everyone could be at risk.
Physical and Mental Health Consequences
Domestic violence is associated with a range of physical and mental health effects. Being a victim of domestic violence is linked to increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicide.6 Exposure to traumatic events can lead to stress, fear and isolation, which may lead to depression and suicidal thoughts or behavior.6
Survivors of domestic violence may internalize verbal abuse from their partner. They may blame themselves for their situation or feel anger and resentment toward themselves. After enduring abuse, survivors may experience difficulties in new relationships.7
Domestic violence survivors are more likely to experience health problems and perceive their overall health as poor compared to those who have not experienced domestic violence. About 75% of female survivors experience some form of injury related to the domestic violence.4 In addition to injuries, common physical symptoms include headaches, insomnia, chronic pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, chest, back, and pelvic pain.
Traumatic brain injury and nonfatal strangulation (i.e., choking) are forms of intimate partner violence that often go unrecognized. Intimate partner violence can also result in unplanned pregnancies and pregnancy complications for the mother and child.
Additionally, more than half of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by a current or former male intimate partner, according to U.S. crime reports.4
Ways to start a conversation and provide support
Despite adverse mental health consequences associated with domestic violence, a variety of factors may prevent survivors from talking about their situation with their health professional or reaching out for mental health care. Barriers to talking with a health professional or getting care may include fear of retaliation; distrust in the authorities and the legal system; stigma and discrimination; and feeling guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Healthcare professionals may not ask about or look for signs of potential abuse.
But, if you are concerned about yourself, or see signs of an abusive relationship in a friend, neighbor or coworker, start the conversation. Even if you or they are not ready to talk , there are resources available for you and they will know that you are there for them and will be supportive if they do need help (See Warning signs of abusive behavior.)
You can provide support by:
- Acknowledging that they’re in a difficult and scary situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault.
- Reassuring them that they’re not alone and that there’s help and support available.
- Listening to what they have to say. They may not be looking for you to fix the problem but may be looking for someone who will listen.
- Respecting the decisions that a survivor makes. Try to avoid judging or criticizing their choices.
- Not posting information about them on social media that could be used to identify them or where they spend time.
- Offering resources – such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Love is Respect (for teens and young adults), Women’s Law (which provides information on domestic violence laws and procedures) and local services and resources, including assistance with housing, food, transportation and healthcare if needed.
- Encouraging them to participate in activities with friends and family, outside of their relationship.
- Helping them develop a safety plan.
- Continuing to be supportive of them if they do end the relationship.
(Adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.)
There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, such as fear of consequences/partners actions; concern about the ability to be independent; not recognizing the unhealthy or abusive behavior; shame or feeling it’s deserved; intimidation or threats from the abuser; lack of resources; dependence because of a disability; concerns related to immigration status; or wanting to keep the family together for young children.
“No matter the circumstances, survivors deserve to be supported in their decision-making and empowered to reclaim control over their own lives.” – National Domestic Violence Hotline
Domestic Violence Statistics
Estimates of lifetime victimization by an intimate partner in the U.S.4,8
- Severe physical violence - one in three women and one in four men.
- Rape - 9% of women and 0.5% of men.
- Other sexual violence - 16% of women and 10% of men.
- Stalking - 9% of women and 3% of men.
Most victims of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence were first victimized at a young age so there is a need for education, awareness and prevention among teens and young adults.
More statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011.
*This page uses the term domestic violence with a focus primarily on intimate partner violence.
Obianuju O. Berry, M.D., M.P.H.
Director of NYC Health + Hospitals Domestic Violence Mental Health Initiatives
Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU
Member, APA Committee on Women’s Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2014). Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003–2012 (Truman, J.L. and Morgan, R.E.)
- National Center for Transgender Equality. 2016. U.S. Transgender Survey, 2015
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Fast Facts: Preventing Intimate Partner Violence.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017. Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan. Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices.
- World Health Organization. (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2019). Intimate Partner Violence: A Guide for Psychiatrists Treating IPV Survivors.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. Surveillance Summaries. (Breiding, M.J., et al.) September 5, 2014.