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Intimate Partner Violence: Definition, Effects, Victims, Perpetrators, and How to Seek Help

Intimate Partner Violence: Definition, Effects, Victims, Perpetrators, and How to Seek Help

Relationships are not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes, love and romance take a sinister turn. The news is often filled with stories of violence and aggression. Many of them happen in romantic relationships.

Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is considered a serious health problem in the United States, leading to profound and lifelong impacts on health, opportunity, and well-being (CDC, 2021a).

IPV must get the attention it deserves, allowing discourse around the issue to help understand its root cause and find ways to prevent it.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

While domestic violence is a household term everyone understands, a lot are kept in the dark when talking about intimate partner violence. The latter occurs between “intimate partners,” referring to former spouses and dating partners. It is related to other forms of violence, particularly domestic violence.

However, the manner of occurrence and the people involved set them apart. Intimate partner violence can only be considered as such when the abuse and aggression occur between romantic partners. They may or may not be living in the same house. On the other hand, domestic violence is a blanket term referring to abuse between a parent, child, siblings, or even roommates.

Often, intimate partner violence can vary in frequency and severity. It could be one episode of violence that leaves a lasting impact. It could be severe episodes that can happen for years.

This public health issue has been affecting millions of American lives every year. In fact, 1 in every 4 women has undergone some form of intimate partner violence, whether in the shape of contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking, and has reported such incidents during their lifetime (CDC, 2021b). About 1 in 10 men has similar experiences.

IPV is a widespread problem, occurring in all settings and across various groups, regardless of socioeconomic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. The WHO (2017) claims that 30% of women have been physically, sexually abused, or both by their partners.

Types of IPV Behaviors

Intimate Partner Violence can take on various forms. It can include some of the most common types of abusive behaviors, including physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. To understand these forms better, we must delve deep into each.

Physical Violence

This occurs when one hurts or attempts to inflict pain on their partner through several actions involving physical force, including but not limited to kicking, hitting, and punching.

  • Every year, 13% to 61% of people have experienced physical violence from a partner (WHO, 2012).
  • Severe violence by a partner has been reported by 4% to 49% of IPV victims (WHO, 2012).
  • About 1 in 5 women reported having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2021b).
  • US crime reports claim that about 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner (CDC, 2021b).
  • About 96 Americans are killed with guns daily, with domestic violence accounting for many of these deaths (National Council of Jewish Women, 2018).

Gun ownership is a huge factor in intimate partner violence. Abusers with gun access are 500 times more likely to get violent and kill a partner than those with no firearms (National Council of Jewish Women, 2018).

Sexual Violence

This behavior is another glaring sign of intimate partner violence. It happens when one party forces their partner to participate in a sexual act, physical or nonphysical, when the other party does not voluntarily consent.

  • About 1 in 5 women have experienced contact sexual violence by an intimate partner (CDC, 2021b).
  • About 1 in 3 men is a victim of contact sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime (CDC, 2020).
  • Globally, 6% to 59% reported having experienced sexual violence (WHO, 2012) by a partner at some point in their lives.

Victims of sexual violence by an intimate partner often deal with reproductive health consequences, including unwanted pregnancy, abortion, unsafe abortion, and sexually transmitted infections. The effect can be indirect too. Women may find it difficult to negotiate contraceptive or condom use with their partners.

IPV can even occur during pregnancy, leading to serious ramifications, including late entry into prenatal care, miscarriage, fetal injury, stillbirth, premature labor and birth, and low birth weight. While often unrecognized by policymakers, IPV during pregnancy may also lead to maternal mortality.


Often leaving a psychological impact, stalking is an act of giving repeated and unwanted attention and contact by a partner. This pattern often stirs fear and concern for the victim’s safety or the safety of those close to them.

  • About 10% of women report having been stalked by an intimate partner, while 2% of men claim the same (CDC, 2021b).
  • Around 43% of male victims reported being stalked by male perpetrators, while 46% said the advances came from women (CDC, 2020).
  • About 60.8% of female and 43.5% of male victims of stalking reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner (NCADV, n.d.).

Technological advancement makes it easier for stalking to occur as perpetrators use spyware to monitor their victims. These apps can often track the victim’s location, rendering them vulnerable to stalking.

Psychological Aggression

Just because physical force is not used does not mean that aggressive behavior cannot be considered abuse. Psychological aggression refers to an act where the perpetrator uses verbal and nonverbal communication to harm their partner, mentally or emotionally. This act often involves intent and aims to exert control over the other.

Psychological abuse by an intimate partner can lead to a range of mental health consequences, including depression and post-traumatic disorders (PTSD).

The Common Victims of IPV

Women endure overwhelming instances of IPV. However, IPV does not discriminate, which means that both men and women can experience this kind of violence regardless of the setting, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, ethnicity, and race.

Some people are more vulnerable to IPV than others. These include factors such as the following:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Young age
  • Disabilities
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment
  • Having few friends
  • Alcohol and drug use

IPV can happen to anyone at any age. But men and women may experience it at distinct stages of their lives. About 47% of women victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking experienced IPV between 18 and 24 (CDC, 2010). Meanwhile, 39% of men who were victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking first experienced IPV at the same age range.

Prevalence of Teen Dating Violence

Violence among dating teens has been increasingly common nowadays. This coincides with the age range when most men and women first experienced IPV. In the United States, millions of young people have experienced teen dating violence (TDV). It is not confined to physical aggression either; it can happen anywhere, from in-person to online.

In 2019, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention conducted the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Data from that research found that about 1 in 12 teens experienced physical dating violence (CDC, 2022). The same ratio applies to those who went through sexual dating violence.

The Role of Ethnicity in IPV

While it is often emphasized that IPV can happen to anyone, certain groups of people are more at risk than others. About 4 in every 10 non-Hispanic Black women, 4 in 10 Native American women, and 1 in 2 multiracial non-Hispanic women have been victims of IPV in various forms, including physical violence, rape, and stalking (CDC, 2010).

These rates are 30% to 50% higher than those experienced by Hispanic, white non-Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Non-Hispanic women.

Experts cannot pinpoint why IPV is more prevalent among ethnic minorities, but there seem to be risk factors influencing this occurrence, including education, unemployment, and substance abuse.

IPV Incidents in LGBTQ+ Community

Gender also plays a role when it comes to IPV. The members of the LGBTQ+ community are not spared from this. Around 44% of lesbian and 61% of bisexual women have been victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2010). In contrast, about 35% of straight women experienced the same in their lifetime.

Among gay and bisexual men, 26% and 37%, respectively, experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. This is compared to 29% of straight men who had the same experience.

The Common Perpetrators of IPV

It is impossible to identify a singular profile of IPV perpetrators, but many experts have been compiling well-documented risk factors that correlate with numerous cases of IPV. These risk factors are interlinked with a greater likelihood of intimate partner violence. They are often a blend of various influences, including relational, community, and societal risk factors.

For individuals, the following are listed as risk factors:

  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Lack of education
  • Lack of income
  • Young age
  • Delinquent behavior as a youth
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Depression and suicide attempts
  • Anger and hostility
  • Inability to solve social problems without resorting to violence
  • Antisocial personality traits
  • Incapability of controlling poor behavior
  • Exhibiting borderline personality disorder
  • History of abuse in childhood, including physical and emotional
  • Isolation and lack of friends
  • Emotional dependence and insecurity
  • Obsession with power and dominance in relationships
  • Hostility toward women

The following factors increase the risk of IPV perpetration in relationships:

  • Relationship conflicts stemming from jealousy, tension, possessiveness, divorce, and separation
  • One partner dominates and controls the other
  • Economic stress experienced by families
  • Unhealthy relationships and interactions
  • Association with antisocial behavior and aggressive peers
  • Having parents with less than a high school education
  • Witnessing violence between parents as a child
  • Poor parenting experience as a child

In communities, there are also risk factors that increase the likelihood of IPV, including the following:

  • High rates of poverty and limited educational and economic opportunities
  • High unemployment rates
  • High crime and violence rates
  • Lack of community involvement among residents
  • Weak community sanctions

There are also societal factors that increase the occurrence of IPV. These include the following:

  • Inequality brought about by traditional gender norms
  • Cultural norms that support aggression toward others
  • Weak health, educational, economic, and social policies

The Extent of the IPV Problem

IPV is a fundamental problem that needs immediate attention. It is so widespread that around 11 million women and 5 million men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2021b). On top of that, more than 43 million women and 38 million men have been subjected to psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Many report that they first experienced IPV before they were 18. Furthermore, some communities are more exposed to these kinds of abuse due to inequities brought about by economic, societal, and other risk factors.

IPV presents itself in numerous ways. Some are not as obvious as others. While physical violence between intimate partners may leave visible marks like a black eye or a bruise, emotional abuse is not always apparent. It is also the least talked about. Abuse in the form of humiliation, insults, and criticisms may lead to deeper wounds that leave no physical scar but are equally as harmful to one’s self-worth and dignity.

Psychological aggression, which often manifests in intimidation and threats, can be just as damaging.

Not all cases of IPV are reported. Some incidents are so subtle that they are not often noticeable. Victims tend to not recognize signs of aggression and violence when they are in a relationship.

The Heavy Burden and Consequences of IPV

The aftermath of IPV can be quite devastating. Its consequences are often long lasting. It can be experienced in various forms, so the problems that ensue will understandably vary. The impacts can be any of the following:

  • Physical injury
  • Poor health leading to hypertension, chest pain, and other chronic disorders
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Lingering feelings of guilt and shame
  • Dependence on alcohol or drugs
  • Gastrointestinal problems caused by stress
  • Reproductive health problems
  • Reckless sexual behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm and suicidal tendencies
  • Distrust of others
  • Difficulty of holding a job

While men and women feel the consequences of IPV, the serious effects are far more common in the latter, wreaking havoc on their physical and mental health. A study even found that women in violent relationships are 10 times more likely to report depression and 17 times more likely to experience anxiety (Marque, 2018).

Facts on Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Stalking, Physical Aggression

  • 81% of women vs. 43% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime (Stop Street Harassment et al., 2018).
  • 1 in 5 women experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime (CDC, 2018).
  • 24.8% of men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime (CDC, 2018).
  • 1 in 3 female victims of completed or attempted rape experienced it for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17 (CDC, 2018).
  • 1 in 4 men who reported completed or attempted rape first experienced it between ages 11 and 17 (CDC, 2018).
  • About 51.1% of female rape victims reported the perpetrator as their intimate partner (CDC, 2010).
  • $122,461 is the estimated lifetime cost of rape per victim (Peterson et al., 2017).
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experienced some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime (CDC, 2017).
  • Around 6.8 million men were forced to penetrate another person in their lifetime (CDC, 2017).
  • 1 in 6 women and one in nine men experienced stalking at some point during their lifetime (CDC, 2017).
  • 22.3% of women and 14% of men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Domestic Violence by State

  • 49.1% of women and 40.7% of men experienced domestic violence in Oklahoma (World Population Review, 2022).
  • 45.3% of women and 35.5% of men experienced domestic violence in Kentucky (World Population Review, 2022).
  • About 41.8% of women and 35.2% of men experienced intimate partner violence in Missouri (World Population Review, 2022).
  • 48.1% of women and 30.9% of men in Nevada experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes (World Population Review, 2022).

General Statistics

  • An average of 24 people per minute fall victim to IPV physical abuse, rape, or stalking (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021).
  • Over 12 million men and women worldwide fall victim to IPV over a year (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021).
  • 29% of women and 10% of men experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, which affected their functioning (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021).
  • 15% of women and 4% of men in the United States have been injured by IPV (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021).
  • 48.4% of women and 48.8% of men have experienced psychological aggression (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021).
  • 74% of stalking victims by an intimate partner reported violence or coercive control during the relationship (Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, 2018).
  • 2.2 years is the average duration of Intimate partner stalking incidents (Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, 2018).
  • 31% of women stalked by an intimate partner also experienced sexual assault (Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, 2018).

How Social Stigma Silences IPV Victims

Many victims of IPV suffer in silence, enduring abuse and humiliation by their partners because they fear speaking out. There is a real fear among victims held back by social stigma and the shame of going through the whole experience. They usually opt to remain in an abusive relationship.

Culturally and socially, victims struggle against the dread of being judged when they report the treatment they suffer at the hands of their intimate partners. They are afraid of having to reveal embarrassing and humiliating details that they would rather remain private.

Victim blaming is also quite common, presenting as a hindrance to swift interventions. In 2012, Yamawaki and a group of researchers examined attitudes toward domestic violence victims and perpetrators (Patrick, 2018). The study, “Perceptions of Domestic Violence,” found that participants attributed blame to the victim who returned to the abuser than to those they had no such information about.

Many victims stay in abusive relationships because they fear how they will be treated by others who learn about the abuse. When victims finally find the courage to come forward and reveal the abuse they suffered at the hands of their intimate partner, they often find themselves being treated differently by others. These include family members, friends, neighbors, and employers whose well-meaning help can have a negative impact.

In many workplaces, special attention can translate to disparate treatment. Some victims may find their workload reduced, assignments altered, and other forms of job modifications.

Ways for IPV Victims to Seek Help

When it comes to intimate partner violence, seeking help is not as easy as it sounds. Many victims keep mum for fear of society’s stigma and being judged. Others just cannot muster enough courage to acknowledge what they are going through.

What IPV Survivors Can Do

  1. Recognize the signs. The most crucial step when seeking help is recognizing the signs of IPV. Some might not be aware that their partner is already abusing them.

    Identifying intimate partner violence is difficult, as the abuse often starts subtly and worsens over time. Learning to recognize IPV begins with asking questions.

    • Does your partner embarrass or make fun of you in front of other people?
    • Do they put down your accomplishments?
    • Do they make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
    • Do they use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
    • Do they treat you roughly by grabbing, pushing, pinching, shoving, or hitting you?
    • Do they blame you for how they feel or act?
    • Do they pressure you sexually?
    • Do they make you feel like there is no way out of the relationship?
    • Do they prevent you from doing things you love, like spending time with your family or friends?
    • Do they keep you from leaving or try to leave you somewhere after a fight?
    • Do you feel scared of how your partner may behave?
  2. Don’t take the blame. The next step is keeping in mind that they do not, in any way, deserve to be abused. It is not their fault. The main reason many do not seek help at the first sign of abuse is that they may partially blame themselves for the abuse.
  3. Create a safety plan. If they fear for their safety, the best decision is to leave the abuser. This step can be dangerous and daunting, but it can be done with a good safety plan. IPV survivors can start by calling a women’s shelter or domestic violence hotline for advice at a safe time—meaning when the abuser is not around. The next move is to pack an emergency bag containing necessary items like extra clothes, personal papers, money, and prescription medicine. The plan must involve determining where they can go for help and how they can get there.

Where IPV Survivors Can Find Help

In case of an emergency, they need to know exactly where they can ask for help. They must be aware of the emergency hotlines in their location. These include the following:

  • Keep the contacts of trusted individuals or groups. They can be friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers, or religious advisers.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for crisis intervention and referrals to resources like women’s shelters. Toll-free hotline number: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233).
  • Turn to healthcare providers. They typically treat IPV injuries and will be able to refer victims to safe housing and other local resources.
  • Go to a local women’s shelter or mental health center. These places will be able to provide victims with counseling. Support groups are available too.
  • Seek help from the local court. If things turn from bad to worse, their last resort would be to obtain a restraining order. This will legally mandate the abuser to stay away from the victim or face arrest.

Helplines Per State





Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence



Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault



Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ACADV)

+1 602-279-2900


Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence



California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

(916) 444-7163


Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault



Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV)

(888) 774-2900


Delaware Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC)


District of Columbia

District of Columbia Coalition Against Domestic Violence

(202) 299-1181


Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV)

(850) 297-2000


Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence



Sex Abuse Treatment Center

+1 808-535-7600


Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence

+1 208-384-0419


Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 217-789-2830


Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 317-917-3685


Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (Iowa CASA)

+1 515-244-7424


Kansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence



Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs

+1 502-226-2704


Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence



Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence

+1 207-430-8334


Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence

+1 301-429-3601


Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

+1 877-785-2020


Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(517) 347-7000


Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault



Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 601-981-9196


Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

+1 573-634-4161


Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

+1 406-443-7794


Nebraska Coalition to end Sexual and Domestic Violence

+1 402-476-6256


Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence

(775) 828-1115

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(603) 224-8893

New Jersey

New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault

+1 609-631-4450

New Mexico

New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 505-246-9240

New York

New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault

+1 518-482-4222

North Carolina

North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 919-956-9124

North Dakota

North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services/Coalition Against Sexual Assault

1. 888-255-6240


Ohio Domestic Violence Network

+1 614-781-9651


Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

+1 405-524-0700


Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

+1 503-230-1951


Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 717-545-6400

Puerto Rico

Oficina de la Procuradora de las Mujeres

+1 787-721-7676

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 401-467-9940

South Carolina

South Carolina Coalition Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence


South Dakota

South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault



Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

615 386-9406


Texas Association Against Sexual Assault

+1 512-474-7190


Utah Domestic Violence Council

+1 800-897-5465


Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault


Virgin Islands

Women’s Coalition of St. Croix

+1 340-773-9272


Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

+1 800-838-8238


Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 206-389-2515

West Virginia

West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence

+1 304-965-3552


End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin

+1 608-255-0539


Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

+1 307-755-5481

IPV Interventions Before It Can Begin

What people who experience IPV should realize is that it is preventable. It is only a matter of identifying the common risk factors and protecting them in the process. When the risk factors are addressed, preventing one form of violence and stopping other forms from being carried out become easier.

The interventions one can receive can vary, depending on the people or groups that provide help.

What Can Parents Do?

Parenting plays a key role in preventing IPV. Good parenting can prevent someone from becoming an IPV perpetrator or victim. Here are ways for parents to get involved:

  • Promote and nurture relationships and responsive caregiving.
  • Strengthen skills to manage children’s behavior through positive reinforcement and nonviolent discipline.
  • Promote gender equity in the family.
  • Ensure the school the child attends does enough to prevent sexual assault on campus.
  • Develop emotional self-regulation skills and reduce stress.

What Can Schools and Educators Do?

Schools are training grounds for children, where they learn and develop values and behaviors. Educators and educational institutions should promote healthy development, positive communication, and social relationships among students and staff members by doing the following:

  • Implement school-based programs that promote healthy relationships.
  • Encourage students to communicate their feelings healthily.
  • Organize social and emotional learning programs for youth.
  • Improve the school’s climate and safety.
  • Ensure there are organizational policies in place that help with workplace climate.

What Can Public Health Professionals Do?

Public health professionals encounter many instances of IPV, and there are many ways they can help besides treating injuries. Here are a few:

  • Prepare a list of victim-centered services.
  • Make sure to practice patient-centered approaches.
  • Provide treatment and support for survivors of IPV.
  • Ensure there are first responders and civil legal protections.
  • Provide educational materials on violence for clients and providers.

IPV is a problem that does not just affect victims but also the communities they live in. It is an issue often suppressed and ignored by the public, making it difficult to find effective solutions. Fortunately, there are available interventions that can help prevent violence from happening to both a partner and a child. The most important part of changing IPV is acknowledging that it exists and spreading awareness about it.


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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, April). Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010–2012 State Report.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, June 1). Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Among Men |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021a, October 9). Intimate Partner Violence |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021b, November 2). Fast Facts: Preventing Intimate Partner Violence |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.
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  • National Council of Jewish Women. (2018, June). The Intersection of Guns and Intimate Partner Violence.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2021, June 15). Domestic Violence Statistics.
  • Patrick, W. (2018, April 9). How Social Stigma Silences Domestic Violence Victims. Psychology Today.
  • Peterson, C., DeGue, S., Florence, C., & Lokey, C. N. (2017). Lifetime Economic Burden of Rape Among US Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(6), 691–701.
  • Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center. (2018, July). Stalking and Intimate Partner Violence: Fact Sheet.
  • Stop Street Harassment, GfK, Raliance, UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health, & Kearl, H. (2018, February). The Facts behind the #MeToo Movement: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault. Stop Street Harassment.
  • World Health Organization & Pan American Health Organization. (2012). Understanding and Addressing Violence against Women: Intimate Partner Violence (WHO/RHR/12.36). World Health Organization.
  • World Population Review. (2022). Domestic Violence by State 2022.

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