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  • Intimate relationship violence and abusive behaviour by ex- or former partner is illegal.
  • Any form of intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, psychological, or economical) represents an abuse of power and a relationship of control between the abuser and the victim.
  • Intimate partner violence is a violation of human rights and because it affects women proportionately more than men, it is considered a form of discrimination against women.
  • Healthy and safe relationships are EQUAL relationships.


Intimate partner violence is widespread and has a huge negative impact on adults, children, families, interpersonal relationships, and communities, as well as causing huge economic losses. One of the hallmarks of intimate partner violence is its hidden nature, as many victims of intimate partner violence are too discouraged to seek help and report the abuse to law enforcement.

Intimate partner violence refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours (Krug et al., 2002).

According to European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) intimate partner violence is “any act of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occurs between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim” (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017).

Although women can be violent in relationships with men, often in self-defence, and violence sometimes occurs in same-sex partnerships, the most common perpetrators of violence against women are male intimate partners or ex-partners. By contrast, men are far more likely to experience violent acts by strangers or acquaintances than by someone close to them (Krug et al., 2002)

The intimate partner violence refers to four different forms of violence (physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence) which are explained below and separately to dating violence, that occurs mainly among young people.

4.3.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC What are the risk factors for intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner and also sexual violence are the result of factors occurring at individual, family, community, and wider society levels that interact with each other to increase or reduce risk (protective). Some are associated with being a perpetrator of violence, some are associated with experiencing violence, and some are associated with both (Krug et al., 2002; WHO, n.d.-b).

Risk factors for both intimate partner and sexual violence include:

  • Lower levels of education (perpetration of sexual violence and experience of sexual violence).
  • A history of exposure to child maltreatment (perpetration and experience).
  • Witnessing family violence (perpetration and experience).
  • Antisocial personality disorder (perpetration).
  • Harmful use of alcohol (perpetration and experience).
  • Harmful masculine behaviours, including having multiple partners or attitudes that condone violence (perpetration).
  • Community norms that privilege or ascribe higher status to men and lower status to women.
  • Low levels of women’s access to paid employment.
  • Low level of gender equality (discriminatory laws, etc.).

Factors specifically associated with intimate partner violence include:

  • Past history of exposure to violence.
  • Marital discord and dissatisfaction.
  • Difficulties in communicating between partners.
  • Male controlling behaviours towards their partners.

Factors specifically associated with sexual violence perpetration include:

  • Beliefs in family honour and sexual purity.
  • Ideologies of male sexual entitlement.
  • Weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.

Gender inequality and norms on the acceptability of violence against women are a root cause of violence against women (WHO, n.d.). Physical violence

Physical violence is considered any act which causes physical harm to the current or former partner as a result of unlawful physical force. Physical violence can take the form of, among others, serious or minor assault, deprivation of liberty and manslaughter (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017).

In 2014 the UN Guidelines for producing survey statistics (United Nations, 2014) outlined that physical violence may involve a wide range of physical acts, such as:

  • Slapping them or throwing something that could hurt an intimate partner.
  • Pushing, shoving, pulling hair.
  • Hitting with a fist or anything else that could hurt an intimate partner.
  • Kicking, dragging, or beating up.
  • Intentional choking or burning.
  • Threatening to use a gun, knife, or other weapon against an intimate partner. Sexual violence

Any sexual act performed on the victim without consent. Sexual violence can take the form of rape or sexual assault (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017).

The UN adds (United Nations, 2014) that sexual violence is any sort of harmful or unwanted sexual behaviour that is imposed on someone. It includes acts of abusive sexual contact, forced engagement in sexual acts, attempted or completed sexual acts with other person without their consent, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, threats, exposure, unwanted touching, incest, etc.

More detailed information about sexual violence is in topic 4.4. Psychological violence

Psychological violence includes a range of behaviours that encompass acts of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. These often coexist with acts of physical and sexual violence by intimate partners and are acts of violence in themselves. Studies have shown that the use of multiple types of psychological violence is associated with an increased risk of physical and sexual violence against female partners and can have serious impacts on such women, regardless of whether or not other types of violence occurred (United Nations, 2014).

EIGE suggests the definition for psychological violence as “any act or behaviour which causes psychological harm to the partner or former partner. Psychological violence can take the form of, among others, coercion, defamation, a verbal insult or harassment” (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017).

Examples of behaviours that fall within the definition of psychological violence include the following:

  • Emotional abuse:
    • Insulting them or making them feel bad about themselves.
    • Belittling or humiliating them in front of other people.
    • Deliberately scaring or intimidating them.
    • Threatening to hurt them or others they care about.
  • Controlling behaviour:
    • Isolating them by preventing them from seeing family or friends.
    • Monitoring them whereabouts and social interactions.
    • Ignoring them or treating them indifferently.
    • Getting angry if they speak with other persons.
    • Making unwarranted accusations of infidelity.
    • Controlling them access to health care.
    • Controlling them access to education or the labour market. Economic violence

Economic violence is said to occur when an individual denies his intimate partner access to financial resources, typically as a form of abuse or control or to isolate her or to impose other adverse consequences to her well-being (United Nations, 2014).

EIGE suggests the definition for economic violence as “any act or behaviour which causes economic harm to the partner. Economic violence can take the form of, among others, property damage, restricting access to financial resources, education or the labour market, or not complying with economic responsibilities, such as alimony (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017).

Economic violence involves the following (United Nations, 2014):

  • Denying access to financial resources.
  • Denying access to property and durable goods.
  • Deliberately not complying with economic responsibilities, such as alimony or financial support for the family, thereby exposing to poverty and hardship.
  • Denying access to the labour market and education.
  • Denying participation in decision-making relevant to economic status. Dating violence

Domestic violence can occur both in a dating relationship, cohabitation relationship, between life partners and in marriage.

Children and young people can witness and directly suffer from intimate partner violence between their parents. Young people can also experience intimate partner violence in their own relationships – such intimate partner violence between young people is called dating violence. Dating violence is a means of control over the person you are in a relationship with, which are characterized by power and control. These are unsafe and damaging relationships. Gender stereotypes contribute to dating violence, but also lack of skills in dealing with aggressive feelings and finding solutions in conflict situations (Part & Kull, 2019).

Dealing with dating violence should be based on a gender perspective, because it is often related to gender stereotypes, and deconstructing them contributes to the understanding and prevention of dating violence. In a previous study, it was found that the gender stereotypic attitudes of the test group’s youth were related to attitudes that allow dating violence (Part & Kull, 2019).


  • Forcing to have sex when they do not want to.
  • Telling that they owe them sex in exchange for taking out on a date.
  • Acting overly jealous, including constantly accusing them of cheating.
  • Being extremely controlling, such as telling them what to wear, forbidding from seeing friends and family, or demanding to check them phone, email, and social media.
  • Constantly checking in with them and getting angry if they don’t check in with them.
  • Putting them down, including their appearance (clothes, makeup, hair, weight), intelligence, and activities.
  • Trying to isolate them from other people, including by insulting them.
  • Blaming them for the abusive behaviour and listing the ways they “made him or her do it”.
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.
  • Apologizing for abuse and promising to change again and again.
  • Having a quick temper, so they never know what they will do or say that may cause a problem.
  • Not allowing them to end the relationship or making them feel guilty for leaving.
  • Threatening to call the authorities (police, deportation officials, child protective services, etc.) as a way to control their behaviour.
  • Stopping them from using birth control or going to the doctor or nurse.
  • Committing any physical violence, such as hitting, pushing, or slapping them.


European Institute for Gender Equality (2017). Glossary of definitions of rape, femicide and intimate partner violence. European Institute for Gender Equality. Retrieved from https://eige.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/ti_pubpdf_mh0417297enn_pdfweb_20170602161141.pdf

Krug, E. G., Dahlberg, L. L., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B., & Lozano, R. (Eds.). (2002). World report on violence and health. Genève: Organisation mondiale de la santé. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9241545615

Part, K., & Kull, M. (Eds.). (2019). Terved ja turvalised suhted. Noorte kohtinguvägivala ennetamine. Tartu.

United Nations. (2014). Guidelines for Producing Statistics on Violence against Women—Statistical Surveys. New York: United Nations. Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/docs/guidelines_statistics_vaw.pdf

WHO. (n.d.). Violence against women. Retrieved 29 September 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

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