What is Intimate Partner Violence?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines intimate partner violence (IPV) as abuse or aggression within a romantic relationship. The severity and duration of IPV differ on a case-by-case basis. It is important to investigate the inner workings of IPV and how it impacts various groups and types of relationships. This article will focus on IPV among lesbian and bisexual women.
Prevalence of IPV among Lesbian and Bisexual Women
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey explored intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking among American adults. Results from this survey revealed that:
- Nearly half of bisexual women had experienced rape compared to 1 out of 8 lesbian women and 1 out of 6 heterosexual women.
- Bisexual women were also more likely to experience other forms of sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner. More specifically, 61% of bisexual women reported being raped, assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner, compared to 44% of lesbian women and 35% of heterosexual women.
In these groups, males were said to be the most common perpetrator of IPV. The heightened prevalence of IPV, particularly among bisexual women, is cause for concern and warrants further research and attention.
Potential Reasons for Elevated Rate of Intimate Partner Violence
Members of the LGBTQ+ community experience stressors related to their identity as a sexual minority referred to as Sexual Minority Stress. Sexual Minority Stress includes internal and external factors. Internal factors include internalized homophobia, the expectation of rejection or discrimination, and stigma consciousness, while external factors include occurrences of discrimination, violence, and harassment. Recent research shows that internal factors, particularly internalized homophobia, are associated with an increased likelihood of IPV. Lesbian and bisexual women with internalized homophobia may feel a sense of responsibility, believing the cause of their mistreatment relates to their sexual orientation. Increased stigma consciousness (i.e., self-consciousness about their membership of the LGBTQ+ community) has also been linked to the likelihood of IPV and the tendency of victims to ignore abuse.
Types of Intimate Partner Violence
IPV exists in many forms, including physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and/or psychological aggression. Physical violence consists of any form of physical force, such as hitting or punching, whereas sexual violence entails forcing a partner to participate in a sexual act without consent. A victim of stalking receives repeated unwanted attention that causes them to feel unsafe. Lastly, psychological aggression includes communication meant to threaten or control an individual’s partner.
Impact of Intimate Partner Violence
IPV is a serious concern with numerous health and psychological consequences for victims. While IPV is sometimes considered an “invisible trauma”, victims experience adverse effects related to their cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, and nervous systems. Further, victims of IPV often experience PTSD, anxiety, and depression. IPV can also have noticeable physical consequences, with approximately 35% of female IPV survivors experiencing a physical injury related to the violence they experience. IPV can also result in death, with data showing 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.
Barriers to Seeking Help
The IPV Stigmatization Model works to explain the barriers that lesbian and bisexual women may face in seeking help. Survivors may be hesitant to report their abuse due to internal stigma, anticipated stigma from others, and cultural stigma tied to their sexual orientation. Research suggests that lesbian and bisexual women often experience increased victimization and homophobia when reporting their abuse to authorities. Victims may also perceive themselves or their identity to be responsible for the abuse they experience and feel shame in seeking help.
Treating Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence
There are several interventions for treating women experiencing IPV. Medication in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to treat this population.
can be used to target feelings of loss, need for safety, social isolation, and associated stressors
is a form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for PTSD treatment that focuses on reframing cognitions
such as antidepressants can be used to treat depressive symptoms common in PTSD following IPV.
Frequently Ask Questions
Often, victims attempt to hide their abuse. Signs of IPV include missing work or scheduled appointments, presenting vague psychosomatic symptoms, complaints of depression, self-harm, sudden hospital visits, and attempts to conceal injuries.
The symptoms of IPV are hard to identify as we often look for physical injuries. Often, this is not the case.
Victims of IPV often turn to avoidance in the aftermath of leaving their relationship. To heal, victims must take action to confront their past abuse and how it impacts their current interpersonal relationships. Victims must also navigate identifying and developing healthy coping mechanisms that allow them to move forward.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
If you would like to talk to a counselor, please click here.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 2). Preventing intimate partner violence. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html
Intimate partner violence. A guide for psychiatrists treating IPV survivors. (2019). American Psychiatric Association.
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