Intimate Partner Violence

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is more commonly known as spousal abuse or domestic violence. It includes any behaviour that causes physical, psychological, or physical harm to a current or former partner.

Individuals who use IPV against their partners are often called perpetrators and individuals who experience IPV are known as victims, although some people prefer to be called survivors. Some people may both use and experience IPV.

What does it look like?

You are experiencing IPV if you are living with any or all of the following:

  • Physical violence – when force is used to cause you harm, including but not limited to pushing, hitting, throwing things, and choking.
  • Sexual violence and coercion – when you are threatened, repeatedly pursued, or forced to have sex.
  • Psychological or emotional violence – when threats, intimidation, and control are used to diminish your sense of your self and your well-being. This can include isolating you from family and friends, monitoring your movements, and restricting your access to money.

What are some of the impacts of experiencing IPV?

The impacts of IPV go beyond actual or threatened violence. You may also experience:

  • Other physical health issues
    • Women report increased numbers of injuries, chronic pain and illness, gastro-intestinal and gynaecological issues (including a greater exposure to sexually transmitted diseases).6
    • Men report increased numbers of chronic disease.12
  • Psychological impacts
    • You may feel low or depressed, have increased anxiety, or feel the need to manage difficult feelings by using alcohol or drugs.5, 13
    • You may also experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
  • Social impacts:
    • Occupational problems have been reported in men who use IPV, including increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and difficulty concentrating.9
    • Women who experience IPV have reported instability in their work and housing.14, 15

What are the broader impacts of IPV?

There are other major impacts beyond the personal trauma that individuals experience when they are victims/survivors of IPV, such as:

  • The World Health Organization identified IPV as a significant global public health concern, adversely affecting millions of individuals every year.
  • While cisgender men (i.e., someone who was identified as male at birth and identifies as a man) can experience IPV, research shows that women, trans, and gender non-binary individuals are more likely to experience the most severe forms of IPV.1-3
  • Over 100,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 89 years experienced IPV in 2019, which accounted for 30% of all police-reported violent crimes.4
  • IPV is recognised as a large contributor to disease burden (the human and economic costs resulting from poor health) and nonfatal injuries among women.7, 8
  • The economic impacts of IPV are immense. They include direct costs from demands on medical, mental health, and criminal justice systems. There are many indirect costs, as well, such as workplace impacts (e.g., reduced productivity).9, 10 In 2009, the cost of spousal violence in Canada was estimated at $7.4 billion.11

Research is underway to better understand IPV in military, Veteran, and civilian contexts.

Here’s what that research is telling us.

Who is at higher risk for experiencing IPV?

While both women and men experience IPV, “agency data,” (e.g., incidents of IPV reported to police) routinely indicate that IPV is used primarily by men against women.36 Further:

  • People in sexual minority populations report more experiences of IPV than do people in heterosexual relationships.2, 16
  • Women with disabilities are more likely to experience IPV than are men with disabilities or women without them. 17,18
  • Members of ethnic minority groups are at greater risk of experiencing IPV.19
  • More chronic and severe IPV use has been reported in rural areas, with vulnerable groups of rural women (e.g., ethnic minorities) being at greater risk. 20
  • People experiencing IPV in rural areas tend to have poorer physical and psychosocial outcomes. This may be due to higher rates of drug and alcohol use, as well as a lack of IPV support services.20
  • There are additional factors that put a person at a higher risk of experiencing IPV. These include having been exposed to IPV in the home during childhood, being abused as a child, alcohol and drug use, and marital status and relationship discord, (e.g., low levels of marital agreement, more frequent arguments).19
  • In addition, stressful life events outside of a relationship – such as natural disasters (forest fires, floods, pandemics) – can increase the likelihood of IPV.21-24

IPV in military and Veteran contexts.

  • Military and Veteran populations are at greater risk of IPV than are civilians. This is due to the unique and often stressful characteristics of military culture, such as deployment, return transition, and combat exposure.
  • Active members and Veterans also report a high occurrence of mental health disorders including PTSD and alcohol use disorder. Both of these are often present when IPV occurs.
  • Barriers to disclosing IPV exist in military, Veteran, and civilian contexts. These barriers include a lack of information about support services, along with challenges in accessing services. In addition, disclosure could result in more abuse from the partner, fears for the safety of children, and financial stress if the partner’s monetary support is lost.28,29

What the research doesn’t tell us.

Unlike other physical or mental health disorders, IPV is an exposure and uniquely impacts the individual. Current IPV research often fails to capture certain nuances of IPV. This includes a description of IPV severity or impact, and how the context within which IPV takes place is assessed.

The COVID-19 pandemic.

The restrictions placed on our lives by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to be causing increased risks of IPV.22-23 Stay-at-home orders have kept victim/survivor and perpetrator in close quarters for extended periods. Social distancing has resulted in a lack of access to social supports outside of our homes, and lay-offs have caused increased financial stress. While there are no studies that have examined changes in IPV rates in military and Veteran populations specifically, trends in the civilian context indicate an increase in domestic violence.30-33

The long-term implications of COVID-19 on the victims/survivors and the perpetrators of IPV, particularly in military and Veteran contexts, is largely unknown.34, 35

What we are doing to address the issue?

A collaboration between the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Phoenix Australia – Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, has been formed to explore IPV in military and Veteran populations. Specifically, the collaboration aims to:

  1. Conduct a thorough review of research on the prevalence of IPV in the military. While there is increasing concern about IPV in the military and among Veterans, there is still uncertainty about the true extent of these issues. By providing the best available estimates to show the extent and urgency of IPV occurrences, we can help policy makers to implement policies and programs to prevent and treat IPV.
  2. Develop a framework for research to inform responses to IPV in military and Veteran populations, with a particular focus on health services. There is, at present, no framework for understanding the current approaches being used in the identification, prevention, and treatment of IPV among military personnel and Veterans. Establishing a framework will inform of evidence-based IPV interventions in military health service environments, as well as identify areas where empirical evidence is lacking.
  3. Develop partnerships and a network of cross-sector collaborative relationships, including facilitating a roundtable discussion, which will support an ongoing body of research on IPV in military and Veteran populations.


If you feel that you are in immediate danger of experiencing IPV, dial 911.

If you feel that you or someone you know is experiencing IPV and needs support, here are some resources to explore:

The Ending Violence Association of Canada provides a detailed listing of crisis lines, shelters, and other supports.

The Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services provide tip sheets, stories, and supports for building healthier relationships.

  1. Peitzmeier, S.M., et al., Intimate partner violence in transgender populations: Systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence and correlates. American Journal of Public Health, 2020. 110(9): p. e1-e14.
  2. Edwards, K.M., K.M. Sylaska, and A.M. Neal, Intimate partner violence among sexual minority populations: A critical review of the literature and agenda for future research. Psychology of Violence, 2015. 5(2): p. 112.
  3. Caldwell, J.E., S.C. Swan, and V.D. Woodbrown, Gender differences in intimate partner violence outcomes. Psychology of Violence, 2012. 2(1): p. 42.
  4. Conroy, S., Section 3: Police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, 2019, in Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2019. 2021, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Statistics Canada.
  5. Spencer, C., et al., Mental health factors and intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Violence, 2019. 9(1): p. 1.
  6. Campbell, J.C., Health consequences of intimate partner violence. The Lancet, 2002. 359(9314): p. 1331-1336.
  7. Ayre, J., et al., Examination of the burden of disease of intimate partner violence against women in 2011: Final report. 2016, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).
  8. World Health Organization, Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. 2013: World Health Organization.
  9. MacGregor, J.C., et al., Intimate partner violence and work: A scoping review of published research. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2019: p. 1524838019881746.
  10. Peterson, C., et al., Lifetime economic burden of intimate partner violence among US adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2018. 55(4): p. 433-444.
  11. Zhang, T., et al., An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009. 2009, Department of Justice Canada.
  12. Coker, A.L., et al., Physical and mental health effects of intimate partner violence for men and women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2002. 23(4): p. 260-268.
  13. Sparrow, K., et al., Systematic review of mental health disorders and intimate partner violence victimisation among military populations. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2017. 52(9): p. 1059-1080.
  14. Showalter, K., Women’s employment and domestic violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2016. 31: p. 37-47.
  15. Baker, C.K., et al., Domestic violence, housing instability, and homelessness: A review of housing policies and program practices for meeting the needs of survivors. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2010. 15(6): p. 430-439.
  16. Walters, M., L. Chen, and M. Breiding, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. 2013, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Atlanta, GA.
  17. Smith, D.L., Disability, gender and intimate partner violence: Relationships from the behavioral risk factor surveillance system. Sexuality and Disability, 2008. 26(1): p. 15-28.
  18. Breiding, M.J. and B.S. Armour, The association between disability and intimate partner violence in the United States. Annals of Epidemiology, 2015. 25(6): p. 455-457.
  19. Capaldi, D.M., et al., A systematic review of risk factors for intimate partner violence. Partner Abuse, 2012. 3(2): p. 231-280.
  20. Edwards, K.M., Intimate partner violence and the rural–urban–suburban divide: Myth or reality? A critical review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2015. 16(3): p. 359-373.
  21. Enarson, E., Violence against women in disasters: A study of domestic violence programs in the United States and Canada. Violence Against Women, 1999. 5(7): p. 742-768.
  22. World Health Organization, COVID-19 and violence against women: what the health sector/system can do, 7 April 2020. World Health Organization. Retrieved on 13 January 2021 from 2020.
  23. Moreira, D.N. and M.P. da Costa, The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the precipitation of intimate partner violence. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 2020. 71: p. 101606.
  24. Bell, S.A. and L.A. Folkerth, Women’s mental health and intimate partner violence following natural disaster: A scoping review. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 2016. 31(6): p. 648.
  25. Marshall, A.D., J. Panuzio, and C.T. Taft, Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen. Clinical Psychology Review, 2005. 25(7): p. 862-876.
  26. Misca, G. and M.A. Forgey, The role of PTSD in bi-directional intimate partner violence in military and veteran populations: A research review. Frontiers in Psychology, 2017. 8: p. 1394.
  27. Klostermann, K., et al., Intimate partner violence in the military: Treatment considerations. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2012. 17(1): p. 53-58.
  28. Dichter, M.E., et al., Intimate partner violence detection and care in the Veterans Health Administration: patient and provider perspectives. Women’s Health Issues, 2015. 25(5): p. 555-560.
  29. Robinson, S.R., K. Ravi, and R.J. Voth Schrag, A Systematic review of barriers to formal help seeking for adult survivors of IPV in the United States, 2005–2019. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2020: p. 1524838020916254.
  30. Jetelina, K.K., G. Knell, and R.J. Molsberry, Changes in intimate partner violence during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA. Injury Prevention, 2020.
  31. Mohler, G., et al., Impact of social distancing during COVID-19 pandemic on crime in Los Angeles and Indianapolis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 2020: p. 101692.
  32. Pfitzner, N., et al., Responding to Queensland’s ‘shadow pandemic’during the period of COVID-19 restrictions: Practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women. Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. 2020.
  33. Piquero, A.R., et al., Staying Home, Staying Safe? A Short-Term Analysis of COVID-19 on Dallas Domestic Violence. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 2020: p. 1-35.
  34. Gonzalez, J.M.R., et al., Trends in Family Violence Are Not Causally Associated with COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders: a Commentary on Piquero et al. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 2020. 45(6): p. 1100-1110.
  35. Jarnecke, A.M. and J.C. Flanagan, Staying safe during COVID-19: How a pandemic can escalate risk for intimate partner violence and what can be done to provide individuals with resources and support. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 2020. 12(S1): p. S202.
  36. Hamby, S., Intimate partner and sexual violence research: Scientific progress, scientific challenges, and gender. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2014. 15(3): p. 149-158.