Intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence refers to a situation where the abuser systematically uses different forms of abuse to exert power and control over their partner or family member. A characteristic of intimate partner violence is that the victim often has strong emotional ties to the abuser, which 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 escalates over time. The abuse normally begins with subtle controlling actions and grows over time with physical 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. 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 abusing another, or a child abusing their parent or vice versa.

Various forms of abuse and neglect are often committed against children and pets. It is harmful for a child to witness violence in the household, whether committed by or against someone they love. It is also harmful for a child to themselves be a direct victim of abuse. Read more about children who have experienced abuse here. Research also shows 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 subjected to abuse and/or neglect if you learn about abuse committed by or against a person who cares for that child. Similarly, there is a link between intimate partner violence and abuse of pets or other animals, such as cattle. Being violent to or neglecting animals is one way for the abuser to threaten, intimidate and be violent against family members. Fear about what will happen to an animal can be a reason for an abuse victim to shy away from leaving the relationship.

The model below describes the versatility and complexity created by intimate partner violence. Click on the wheel to enlarge it.

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 an abusive partner may be difficult for many reasons, whether practical, emotional or safety-related. Many leave a partner several times before finally being able to leave for good. However, intimate partner violence does not necessarily end just because the romantic relationship ends. A separation could even trigger serious violence. Other events that often lead to an escalation of violence are pregnancy and the birth of a child. The types of abuse used may change after a separation. Since the conditions for being abusive change, 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 are not the typical male-female relationships and there are cases where women abuse men, but the most common form of intimate partner violence involves 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 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 indicate the extensive exposure of women to male violence. 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% 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% of the women who participated in the study were subjected to some form of abuse by a former husband or cohabitee and that 11% were subjected to some form of abuse by a current husband or cohabitee. The most extensive EU-level study to date on women’s experiences of violence was published in 2014. 42,000 women from 28 countries in Europe were interviewed “face to face”. The report shows that 33% 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% of the women and 13% 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 abuse from someone close to them, such as a partner, seriously jeopardises the health and safety of the victim. Beyond the direct physical harm, the systematic abuse causes mental suffering, which can lead to physical illness over time. In addition, the abuse can 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.