Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a term used to describe violence between two people who are in a close relationship.  The violence can be physical.  It can also be verbal or emotional.

You do not have to be married to experience intimate partner violence.  IPV also refers to abuse by a past intimate partner toward the ex-partner.  Anyone can be abused, regardless of:

  • Age
  • Income
  • Ethnic background
  • Education level
  • Religion
  • Physical ability
  • Sexual orientation

IPV is a crime in this country. It is punishable by law.

Men sometimes experience abuse in relationships.  However, studies show that most people (about 95 percent) who report abuse are women.  Abuse in same-sex couples happens at about the same rate as in man-woman couples.

Healthy Relationships

In a healthy relationship, partners:

  • Feel physically and emotionally safe with each other
  • Encourage each other to have friends and activities outside the relationship
  • Respect each other
  • Value each other’s ideas
  • Give and take – sometimes getting their own way, sometimes compromising
  • Trust each other
  • Share responsibility for decision-making

Are you being abused?

Does your partner isolate you from other people?

  • Keep track of you all the time?
  • Constantly accuse you of being unfaithful?
  • Stop you from having relationships with family and friends?
  • Prevent you from participating in activities that matter to you (such as working, attending school, keeping doctor appointments)?
  • Listen to you talk on the phone?
  • Keep you from using the phone?
  • Threaten suicide if you don’t do what he or she wants?
  • Acts like the master and treats you like a servant?
  • Makes the big decisions
  • Defines and enforces men's and women's roles

Does your partner deny you control of your money or belongings?

  • Control all the money?
  • Force you to report on what you spend?
  • Destroy personal property?
  • Destroy sentimental items that belong to you?

Does your partner belittle you?

  • Criticize you for little things?
  • Make fun of you in front of others?

Does your partner physically hurt you, or threaten to do so?

  • Hurt (or threaten to hurt) you?
  • Hurt (or threaten to hurt) your children or your pets?
  • Force you to have sex against your will?
  • Use or threaten to use a weapon against you?
  • Keep necessary items (like food or medicine) away from you?
  • Direct anger toward you while he or she is drinking or using drugs?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you are being abused!

The Cycle of Violence

Abuse often occurs in a cycle. The pattern of abuse occurs over and over again. In the beginning, this cycle of violence may take a long time to repeat itself. As time goes on, the cycle may become shorter and shorter. The pattern may include these phases:


You feel as if you’re “walking on eggshells.” Little things can provoke your abuser to express anger or violence. It’s hard to communicate with your partner.


A physical fight or beating usually marks this phase. Sometimes the abuser explodes with angry words or actions. The abuser may destroy your personal property. You feel fear and sometimes terror. The abuser may make threats about what will happen if you tell anyone. The abuser may deny the abuse occurred.

Calm/Seduction (“Honeymoon phase”)

The abuser may say, “I’m sorry.” He or she may promise it will never happen again. This gives you false hope that things will change. Not all abusive relationships follow this pattern. Some abusers control their partners all the time. They do not have a “honeymoon phase”.

Abusers often tell their partners that the abuse is their fault. They say that if the victim would only do this or not do that, the abuser would not “have” to be violent or emotionally abusive. This is never true. You are never responsible for another person’s behavior. Abuse is never your fault!

Are you at risk of being killed?

There is no sure way to predict violence. However, there are signs that could mean you are in danger of being killed by your abuser. Does your partner:

  • Threaten suicide?
  • Threaten to kill you or your children?
  • Seem depressed and hopeless?
  • Have access to weapons?
  • Seem to think about you every moment of the day?
  • Stalk you to keep tabs on where you are?
  • Say there is no future if you leave?
  • Drink alcohol or take drugs when feeling down or angry?
  • Hurt your pets?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, or if your partner’s rage is getting worse, you may be at high risk of being killed.

An abused person has the highest risk of serious injury or murder when she or he tries to leave the relationship. It may not be safe to leave until you have a well thought out plan to help you be safe when you do.

Reaching Out

Your safety and your children’s safety is very important. You are not safe if you are being abused. If you are being abused, it may be very hard to reach out for help. You are not alone. Help is available. There are many partner violence programs that offer emergency shelter for you and your children. They also provide a variety of services. You do not have to stay in a shelter to use them. All of these services are free. The services include:

  • 24-hour hotlines: You can call and talk with someone. That person will listen to you and support your choices. You do not have to give your name. There is a list of hotlines at the end of this article.
  • Individual counseling and support groups: You can talk with a professional counselor. You can also meet with other women who are in abusive relationships
  • Legal help: You may need a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order. Partner violence programs have legal advocates. Legal advocates can help you learn how to get a PFA that is specific to you and your location.
  • Children’s counseling services: Many agencies provide free counseling for children who have witnessed violence in their families.

You may decide that you want to talk confidentially with someone you know. Talk with a family member or friend you trust.

For women’s center and violence hotline phone numbers, see the end of this article.

Where to Find Help

Advocates, social workers, counselors, nurses and doctors are available to listen to you. They will help you plan for your safety. They will help you get medical care if you need it.

Immediate medical care is available 24 hours a day at the emergency department of your local hospital. Ask your medical provider to refer you to an IPV advocate or a social worker experienced in IPV. If your partner is with you, ask to be seen alone by the doctor or nurse. Ask the doctor or nurse to help you confidentially.

Ending the Abuse

A person who is being abused may decide to end the relationship. This process can happen quickly, or it can take many years. Survivors are people who have learned to live without abuse from an intimate partner. If you are thinking of leaving your abuser, it is important to carefully plan how you can leave safely.

If you want to stay in the relationship with your partner, the abuse will stop only if the abuser recognizes the problem and is willing to get help.

Planning for Safety

Make a safety plan now to help you if you have to act quickly in the future. You may have to act quickly to protect yourself or your children. Plan what you think will work for you. Some plans that have helped others are:

  • Call a shelter or women’s center hotline. You do not have to stay at a shelter to receive help. You can find out about legal options, shelters, transportation, and other resources before you have to use them.
  • Decide on a safe place to go. Know how to get there, even in the middle of the night.
  • Teach your children a special signal. Tell them to call 911 or your local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) when you give them the signal.  A signal can be as simple as having a special word that your children know means they should call for help.
  • If you leave, take your children with you if you can.  If you must leave them in the house with the abuser, call the police as soon as you are safe.
  • If your partner becomes violent and you cannot leave, go to a room where you will be safe long enough to call for help. Make sure this room has a telephone and a lock on the door. Decide which room this will be ahead of time. Do not go to the kitchen where there are knives and other objects your partner can use as weapons.
  • Prepare an emergency bag and keep it hidden somewhere outside your home where you can get to it if you need to. The bag should include:
    • Clothing
    • House and car keys
    • Extra cash
    • Checkbook
    • Financial records (such as bank statements, deeds, and savings account information)
    • Identification (driver’s license, social security card, immigration papers)
    • Immunization records for yourself and your children
    • Medications

Women's Centers Hotlines & Websites

Below is a listing of 24-hour hotlines at women’s centers in the southwestern Pennsylvania area.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

This is a 24-hour crisis hotline which will directly connect you with a 24-hour hotline in your area.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TDD)

  • Allegheny County
    Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Womansplace (McKeesport, Monroeville, South Hills)
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Services
  • Alle-Kiski Hope Center (Tarentum)
    1-888-299-4673 (toll free)
  • Crisis Center North (North Hills)
  • Armstrong County
  • Beaver County
    Women’s Center
  • Bedford County
    Your Safe Haven
  • Butler County
  • Erie County
    SafeNet - Domestic Violence Safety Network
  • Fayette County (Uniontown)
    Fayette County Family Abuse Council
  • Greene County
    Greene County Women’s Center
  • Indiana County
    Alice Paul House
  • Lawrence County
    Women’s Shelter of Lawrence County
  • Mercer County (Sharon)
  • Washington County (Washington)
    Washington Women’s Shelter, Inc.
  • Westmoreland County
    Blackburn Center Against Violence
  • Rape/Sexual Assault Services
    Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR)
  • Center for Victims of Violent Crime
  • Elder Abuse
    Adult Protective Services
  • Services for Children
    Allegheny County Children,
    Youth and Families
  • Legal Information
    Women’s Center & Shelter
    Legal Department

Online Resources

  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

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