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Identifying Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

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By Dr. Ron Wallace, associate professor of criminal justice at American Military University

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is not intended to substitute formal training related to identifying signs of intimate partner violence (IPV) and appropriate action steps. Criminal justice professionals who have not received formal IPV intervention training should report any suspected signs of IPV to the appropriate authorities for further investigation instead of attempting to intervene.

Intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as domestic violence (DV) has been defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as a pattern of abusive behavior by one partner in a relationship over the other partner. This abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological in nature.

IPV is neither gender nor relationship specific; males, as well as individuals in same-sex relationships, can also be IPV victims.

[Related article: New Research Suggests Women Are Just as Likely as Men to be Perpetrators of Domestic Violence]

Recognize the Signs of IPV
Domestic violenceThe first step to ending IPV is recognizing signs that abuse may be occurring in a relationship. Victims of IPV often suffer in silence due to the control that the abuser establishes over them. Victims typically will not self-report IPV until the violence has reached a point that it can no longer be tolerated.

The following are some signs that IPV is occurring.

Overly Protective Partners
Abusers will often be hesitant to leave their victim alone when they believe the victim might mention the abuse to another individual.

To assess whether IPV potentially exists, separate and inquire. Calmly request to speak with the timid partner alone, out of sight and hearing range of the other individual. If the more dominant partner is insists upon remaining with the timid individual or questions why they cannot be present during the conversation, IPV may be occurring.

Overly Timid Partners
Individuals who always defer to their partner when asked a question and/or avoid all direct eye contact with others as well as their partner may be an IPV victim.

Explore this by asking the timid individual a question directly. If the individual is hesitant to answer, looking to the partner for a response or if the partner tries to immediately answer, calmly state that you would like for the person you were addressing (the timid partner) to answer the question.

Pay close attention to both parties to observe what type of reaction you receive. If the timid partner is still hesitant to respond or the more dominant partner is insistent upon answering the question, you may have a potential case of IPV.

[Related article: Police Are Missing Millions of Cases of Elder Abuse: How to Recognize the Signs]

Unexplained Injuries
Individuals with unexplained injuries might be victims of IPV. This is especially true when there are repeated injuries such as black eyes, bruising of the arms or neck area, or broken bones over a period of time.

To determine whether or not the injuries may be the result of IPV, ask how the injury occurred. If the individual is hesitant to answer or the excuse sounds questionable, the person may be a victim of IPV.

Strange accidents with crazy explanations do occur in normal life. Therefore, do not automatically assume that a strange-sounding injury is the result of IPV. Instead, report your suspicions to others more knowledgeable of the subject of IPV for assessment and investigation as appropriate.

Ron WallaceAbout the Author: Dr. Ron Wallace is a criminal justice professional with more than 30 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. He has worked with criminal justice agencies nationwide as a consultant on various projects and has several years of teaching experience at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Wallace currently serves as an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at American Public University System. He has conducted research and published articles on the topic of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).


Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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