Intimate partner violence refers to a situation where the abuser systematically uses different forms of violence and abuse to exert power and control over their partner or family member. With intimate partner violence, it is common for the person being abused to have strong emotional ties to the abuser. This could make it harder to stand up against it and end the relationship. The abuse is usually done indoors and without witnesses. Intimate partner violence is not isolated incidents. It is done consistently and usually becomes more serious over time. The abuse normally begins with controlling actions that are hardly noticeable. It then grows over time with psychological and verbal abuse, threats, physical and sexual violence, as well as financial and material abuse. Normalisation of abuse is a term used to describe the processes that occur in a relationship where one party abuses the other and the abuse gradually becomes something “normal”. Intimate partner violence is not a relationship issue and the abuse is not mutual. The term intimate partner violence (also known as domestic violence) often refers to a romantic relationship, but can also take the form of one sibling hurting another, a child abusing their parent or vice versa.
It is common for children and pets to be subjected to different forms of abuse and neglect. For children, it is not just harmful to be a victim of direct violence. It is also harmful to experience a loved one being abusive or being abused. Read more about children who have experienced abuse here. Research also shows that there is a link between abuse by or against a parent and direct abuse of the child. In other words, there is reason to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected if you learn about abuse committed by or against a person who cares for that child. There is also a link between intimate partner violence and abuse of pets or other animals, such as cattle. Abusing or neglecting an animal is one way for the abuser to threaten, scare and abuse family members. A woman might choose to stay in an abusive relationship if she is worried about what will happen to her animals.
The model below shows that intimate partner violence can be varied and complex.
Many women say that it is the mental abuse and the destruction of their self-esteem that is the most difficult to handle. Examples of mental abuse include glaring, verbal attacks or the abuser giving the victim the silent treatment for several days. Physical violence can take the form of pushing, restraining, kicking, choking, using a weapon, and more. Sexual violence can be systematic rape and other types of sexual assault. In addition to psychological, physical and sexual violence, it is common for women to be subjected to financial and material abuse of various kinds. Examples of this is the abuser breaking or selling the victim’s belongings and possessions, the man not allowing the woman to have her own income, taking her money, or taking out loans in her name.
Leaving a violent partner can be difficult for many reasons – practical, emotional and safety related. Many leave a partner several times before they can finally end the relationship for good. But, intimate partner violence does not always end just because the romantic relationship ends. A separation could even trigger serious violence. Other events that often cause the violence to ramp up are pregnancy and birth of a child. The violence may take a different form after a separation. Since the conditions have changed, the abuser will have to find other methods to exert power and control.
The model below shows how abusive fathers can often use the children to exert power, control and abuse over the mother, and in doing so also abuse the children.
Intimate partner violence also occurs in relationships that do not involve a woman and a man. The violence can also be woman against man, even though the most common form of intimate partner violence is a man abusing a woman he is or was in a relationship with. Intimate partner violence affects women of all social groups, regardless of age, class, ethnicity, functionality (i.e. ability to function) and sexuality. Various factors such as functionality, drug/alcohol abuse or age can mean that the abused woman is even more at-risk. Scope studies conducted in Sweden, in all of the Nordic countries, and in Europe show that male violence against women is common. The 2014 study Våld och hälsa – En befolkningsundersökning om kvinnors och mäns våldsutsatthet samt kopplingen till hälsa [Violence and health – A population study of women’s and men’s exposure to violence and the link to health] shows that 14 percent of women have at some time after their 18th birthday experienced physical abuse or threats of physical abuse while in or after ending a romantic relationship. Slagen Dam [Battered Woman], published in 2001, is the first large national study conducted in Sweden to examine the extent of male violence against women. The study shows that 35 percent of the women who participated in the study were subjected to some form of abuse by a former husband or cohabitee and that 11 percent were subjected to some form of abuse by a current husband or cohabitee. The most extensive EU study of women’s experiences of violence was carried out in 2014. In the study, 42,000 women from 28 countries in Europe were interviewed “face to face”. The report shows that 33 percent of women in Europe have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse after the age of 15. This is equivalent to 62 billion women (the figure accounts for all male violence against women, including violence that occurs outside of an intimate partner relationship). The Child Abuse Prevention Committee (Kommittén mot barnmisshandel) estimates that one in ten children in Sweden has experienced domestic violence in the home (SOU 2001:72). Half of these children experience it frequently. Approximately half of children who have experienced violence in the home develop severe, permanent disabilities. The study Våld och hälsa – En befolkningsundersökning om kvinnors och mäns våldsutsatthet samt kopplingen till hälsa from 2014 shows similar figures. 15 percent of the women and 13 percent of the men said that they had seen or heard physical violence between their parents during their childhood.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), being subjected to violence by a loved one, like a partner, is a serious threat to the victim’s health and safety. Beyond the direct physical harm, the systematic abuse causes mental suffering, which can lead to physical illness over time. The abuse can also negatively impact the victim’s opportunities for education or work, and thereby their ability to make a living. This, in turn, impacts their living conditions and their mental and physical health.