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Violence Against Women

Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence

What is it?

Domestic violence and abuse, also called intimate partner violence, is when one person purposely causes either physical or mental harm to another, including:

  • Picture of woman looking out of a windowphysical abuse
  • psychological or emotional abuse
  • sexual assault
  • isolation
  • controlling all of the victim's money, shelter, time, food, etc.

Often, the violent person is a husband, former husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, but sometimes the abuser is female. Domestic violence and abuse are common and must be taken very seriously.

One in four women report that they have been physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner. These crimes occur in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Physical and emotional trauma can lead to increased stress, depression, lowered self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder (an emotional state of discomfort and stress connected to the memories of a disturbing event).

Violence against women by anyone is always wrong, whether the abuser is a current or past spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend; someone you date; a family member; an acquaintance; or a stranger. You are not at fault. You did not cause the abuse to happen, and you are not responsible for the violent behavior of someone else.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of intimate partner violence, seek help from family members, friends, or community organizations. An important part of getting help is knowing if you are in an abusive relationship. It can be hard to admit you're in an abusive relationship. But, there are clear signs to help you know if you are being abused.

Learn more about how to get help for intimate partner violence or domestic violence below.

Get Help for Domestic Abuse

If you are being abused or have a loved one who is being abused, get help. Don't ignore it. It won't go away. Keep in mind, you're not alone. Many women are victims of domestic abuse.

Here are things you can do:

  • Make a plan in case you need to leave. Set aside some money and find a place to go. Put important papers and items in a place where you can get them quickly. Review a full checklist of items you'll need, such as marriage license, birth certificates, and checkbook.

  • If you're in danger, call the police or leave.

  • If you're hurt, go to a local hospital emergency room.

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or TDD 800-787-3224, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages. The Helpline can give you the phone numbers of local domestic violence shelters and other resources.

  • Look up state resources for a list of local places to get help.

  • Reach out to someone you trust — a family member, friend, co-worker, or spiritual leader.

  • Contact your family court (or domestic violence court, if offered by your state) for information about getting a court order of protection .

Older Women Face Unique Challenges

Picture of older womanWomen of all ages are at risk for domestic and intimate partner violence and face similar challenges when trying to leave an abuser, like feelings of shame and money concerns. However, women who are 55 years and older and are abused face unique challenges. These women grew up and married during a time when domestic abuse was often ignored. Now, at an older age, they have endured many years of abuse and may have problems with poor self-image and shame. Older women who have been abused also are less likely to tell anyone about it; have health problems that keep them dependent on their abusive partner; feel committed to caring for their abusive aging partners; and are fearful of being alone.

There are resources for all women to get help. Call the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life at 608-255-0539.

Domestic Violence Shelters

Domestic violence shelters offer victims of domestic violence and their children temporary housing as well as counseling and assistance. Services may include:

  • individual counseling
  • family counseling
  • support groups
  • job training
  • legal help

Transitional Housing

Transitional housing focuses on giving families a safe space and time to recover from domestic violence. Families live independently, in separate apartments, while they also receive needed services. Services can include:

  • individual counseling
  • family counseling
  • support groups
  • job training
  • help finding affordable, permanent housing
  • legal help

Visitation Centers

Families dealing with divorce, domestic violence, or custody issues often have a hard time finding a comfortable, neutral place for children to visit with a parent. A visitation center is a safe place where children from families dealing with these issues can visit with a parent.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

Violence in the home doesn't just affect the person being abused; it affects everyone in the home, including children.

Children may witness abuse in a number of different ways.

  • They may be in the room and see their mother being abused.
  • They may hear their parents fighting.
  • They may see the aftermath of the abuse when they see their mother's bruises.

Studies have shown that children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to withdraw and have behavioral problems. As they get older, these children often blame themselves for not stopping the abuse. This can lead to further withdrawal, depression, and substance abuse.

Children who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to become abusers or be abused themselves. A boy who grows up with a father who beats his mother tends to see women as weak and submissive and repeat the cycle of abuse in his own relationships. A girl who sees the abuse of her mother is likely to think that abuse is part of a normal relationship and become involved with an abuser herself.

If you're being abused, it's important to get help for yourself, but also for your children.

HIV and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence and HIV are connected in two ways:

  • If you've been abused in the past or are currently in an abusive relationship, you are more likely to get HIV. If you were physically or sexually abused as a child, you're more likely to have a higher number of partners and less likely to use condoms each time, putting you at greater risk for HIV. If you're currently in an abusive relationship, you may be forced to have sex and you probably can't insist that your partner use a condom, putting you at risk for HIV.

  • Women with HIV who disclose their HIV status to their partners also are at risk of physical abuse. If you're planning to tell your partner you have HIV, take these steps to lower the risk that your partner will react violently:

    • Tell your partner that you are HIV positive BEFORE you get sexually involved.

    • Tell your partner that you are HIV positive in a semi-public place. A public park is a good place, because it gives you some privacy, but there are others around in case you need help.

    • If you feel at all threatened by your partner's reaction, keep meetings public for a while.

Why Women Don't Leave

Most people who have never been in an abusive relationship wonder, "Why doesn't she just leave?" There are many reasons why a woman may not leave an abusive relationship. She may have little or no money and have no way to support herself and her children. She may reach out for help only to find that all the local domestic violence shelters are full. She may not be able to contact friends and family who could help her. Or she may worry about the safety of herself and her children if she leaves.

If you're a victim of abuse or violence at the hands of someone you know or love or you are recovering from an assault by a stranger, you are not alone. Get immediate help and support.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 800-799-SAFE (7233) and 800-787-3224 (TTY). Spanish speakers are available. When you call, you will first hear a recording and may have to hold. Hotline staff offer crisis intervention and referrals. If requested, they connect women to shelters and can send out written information.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 800-656-4673. When you call, you will hear a menu and can choose #1 to talk to a counselor. You will then be connected to a counselor in your area who can help you. You can also visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.

Additional Information on Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence:


  1. Federal resource  Creating a Safety Plan - This fact sheet provides information to women who are at risk for violence on how to help stay safe during violent episodes, the act of leaving an abuser, and how to deal with abuse at home and at work.

  2. Federal resource  Domestic Violence - This publication explains what domestic violence is, how prevalent it is, what the dynamics of an abusive relationship are, what the emotional and physical affects are, and how the effects of domestic violence are treated.

  3. Federal resource  PDF file  Domestic Violence: Older Women Can Be Victims Too - This fact sheet lists some of the warning signs of domestic abuse in later life.

  4. Federal resource  PDF file  Understanding Intimate Partner Violence - This fact sheet contains statistical information on the number of women who are victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), characteristics of the most common victims and perpetrators of IPV, and the effects it can have on a person and society as a whole.

  5. Are you Being Abused? (Copyright © ACOG) - This simple true-false quiz helps victims and those who care about them identify the signs of abuse. It encourages victims to seek assistance and gives helpful phone numbers to call.

  6. Basic Questions & Answers for Non-citizen Survivors of Domestic Violence (Copyright @ - This publication is a question and answer sheet for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence. It gives answers to questions regarding places to go for help, implications of being an immigrant victim, victim's rights, and various other topics.

  7. Domestic Violence (Copyright © ACOG) - This pamphlet is for women who are in an abusive relationship or who are at risk of abuse from a male partner. It presents facts on domestic violence, factors that place a woman at risk, plans for action if she or her children are threatened with physical harm, and resources that are available to help.

  8. Domestic Violence: Protecting Yourself and Your Children (Copyright © AAFP) - This fact sheet provides information on how to protect yourself and your children from domestic violence, where to go to get help, and other facts you should know about domestic violence.

  9. Domestic Violence: Safety Tips for You and Your Family (Copyright © ABA) - This publication gives safety tips on how to protect yourself from violent situations and how to use the law to help protect yourself.

  10. PDF file  Let's Talk Facts About Domestic Violence (Copyright © APA) - This fact sheet explains what domestic violence is and how to know if you are being abused. It also gives information on how you can get help and leave an abuser.


  1. Federal resource
  2. Federal resource  Office for Victims of Crime
  3. Federal resource  Office of Community Services, ACF, HHS
  4. Federal resource  Office on Violence Against Women, OJP, DOJ
  5. Center for a Healthy Maryland
  6. Family Violence Prevention Fund
  8. National Domestic Violence Hotline

Federal resource = Indicates Federal Resources

Content last updated September 1, 2007.

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