What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is preventable public health problem that affects millions of women around the globe

By Dr Vranda M N

WHO (2010) defines intimate partner violence (IPV) as behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors. Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or are in an intimate relationship. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.  

Violence against women is a serious public health concern. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) report in India reveals that one third of women aged between 15-49 years experience physical violence and 1 in 10 have experienced sexual violence. Moreover, married women are more likely to experience physical or sexual violence by husbands than anyone else. One in six married women has experienced emotional violence by their husband, states the report.

Women who are subjected to IPV suffer from both acute and chronic mental health problems, including high rate of depression, anxiety, dissociation, somatoform disorder, cognitive impairments, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

IPV is also a significant risk factor for suicidal behavior among women. Often for women affected by IPV, getting out of an abusive or violent relationship is not so easy. Many women fear that if they leave, their partner will try to find them and harm them. They also worry about losing custody of their children. Hoping for a change in their spouse's behavior women often get trapped in a cycle of violence.  

Both physical and mental health professionals can play an important role in identifying women who are experiencing IPV through screening and offer appropriate psychosocial intervention.  An effective and comprehensive psychological intervention should focus on the following:

  • Behavioral domain, which includes increasing safety of the client.
  • Cognitive interventions, which address the client beliefs about the causation of the abuse, perceptions, cognitive schema, self-esteem, expectations, self-efficacy and attributions.
  • Psychological interventions, which focus on handling client anxiety, depression, trauma and other aspects of distress.

Apart from this, assessment in the area social supports is also important in safety planning. This includes offering information about crisis centers, shelter homes, legal aid and police referral should also be a part of comprehensive treatment plan.

Dr Vranda M N is an assistant professor at psychiatric social work (PSW) department in NIMHANS. She and her team run a special clinic – AWAKE for women with intimate partner violence - at NIMHANS Center for Wellbeing (NCWB). For further information, please call 080 2668 5948.