Intimate partner violence (IPV) is commonly known as spousal abuse or domestic violence. It includes any behaviour that causes physical, psychological or physical harm to a current or former partner.

Individuals who use IPV against their partners are often called perpetrators and individuals who experience IPV are known as victims, although some people prefer to be called survivors. Some people may be both perpetrators and victims of IPV.

What is the prevalence of intimate partner violence among military and Veteran populations?

Evidence Brief: Intimate partner violence

If you feel that you are in immediate danger of experiencing IPV, dial 911.

Causes

IPV involves any or all of the following:

  • Physical violence – force that causes harm, including but not limited to pushing, hitting, throwing things and choking.
  • Sexual violence and coercion – when someone is threatened, repeatedly pursued or forced to have sex.
  • Psychological or emotional violence – when threats, intimidation and control are used to diminish a person’s sense of self and well-being. This can include isolating a person from family and friends, monitoring their movements and restricting their access to money.

Symptoms and reactions

The impacts of IPV go beyond actual or threatened violence. It may also cause:

  • Women report increased numbers of injuries, chronic pain and illness, gastro-intestinal and gynaecological issues (including a greater exposure to sexually transmitted diseases).
  • Men report increased numbers of chronic disease.
  • You may feel low or depressed, have increased anxiety, or feel the need to manage difficult feelings by using alcohol or drugs.5, 13
  • You may also experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
  • Occupational problems have been reported in men who use IPV, including increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and difficulty concentrating.9
  • Women who experience IPV have reported instability in their work and housing.14, 15

Statistics

Broad effects

There are other major impacts beyond the personal trauma that individuals experience when they are victims/survivors of IPV. These impacts are so serious that the World Health Organization identified IPV as a significant global public health concern, adversely affecting millions of individuals every year.

The facts:

  • While cisgender men (i.e., someone who was identified as male at birth and identifies as a man) can experience IPV, research shows that women, trans and gender non-binary individuals are more likely to experience the most severe forms of IPV.
  • Over 100,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 89 years experienced IPV in 2019, which accounted for 30% of all police-reported violent crimes.
  • IPV is recognised as a large contributor to disease burden – the human and economic costs resulting from poor health – and nonfatal injuries among women.
  • The economic impacts of IPV are immense. They include direct costs from demands on medical, mental health and criminal justice systems. There are many indirect costs as well, such as workplace impacts (e.g., reduced productivity). In 2009, the cost of spousal violence in Canada was estimated at $7.4 billion.

High risk individuals

While both women and men experience IPV, agency data, (e.g., incidents of IPV reported to police) indicate that IPV is used primarily by men against women. Further:

  • People in sexual minority populations report more experiences of IPV than people in heterosexual relationships.
  • Women with disabilities are more likely to experience IPV than men with disabilities or women without them.
  • Members of ethnic minority groups are at greater risk of experiencing IPV.
  • More chronic and severe IPV use has been reported in rural areas, with vulnerable groups of rural women (e.g., ethnic minorities) being at greater risk.
  • People experiencing IPV in rural areas tend to have poorer physical and psychosocial outcomes. This may be due to higher rates of drug and alcohol use, as well as a lack of IPV support services.
  • There are additional factors that put a person at a higher risk of experiencing IPV. These include:
    • Being exposed to IPV in the home during childhood
    • Being abused as a child
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Marital status and relationship discord (e.g., low levels of marital agreement, more frequent arguments)
    • Stressful life events outside of a relationship – such as natural disasters (forest fires, floods, pandemics) – can increase the likelihood of IPV.

Military context

  • Military and Veteran populations are at greater risk of IPV than civilians. This is due to the unique and often stressful characteristics of military culture, such as deployment, return transition and combat exposure.
  • Active members and Veterans also report a high occurrence of mental health disorders including PTSD and alcohol use disorder. Both factors are often present when IPV occurs.
  • Barriers to disclosing IPV exist in military, Veteran, and civilian contexts. These barriers include a lack of information about support services, along with challenges in accessing services. In addition, disclosure could result in more abuse from the partner, fears for the safety of children, and financial stress if the partner’s monetary support is lost.

COVID-19

The restrictions placed on our lives by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely causing increased risks of IPV. Stay-at-home orders have kept victims and survivors of IPV in close quarters with perpetrators for extended periods. Social distancing has resulted in a lack of access to social supports outside of our homes. Lay-offs have caused increased financial stress. While no studies have yet examined changes in IPV rates in military and Veteran populations specifically, trends in the civilian context indicate an increase in domestic violence.

The long-term implications of COVID-19 on victims, survivors and perpetrators of IPV, particularly in military and Veteran contexts, is largely unknown.

Addressing IPV

A collaboration between Atlas Institute and Phoenix Australia – Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health has been formed to explore IPV in military and Veteran populations. Specifically, the collaboration aims to:

  • Conduct a thorough review of research on the prevalence of IPV in the military. While there is increasing concern about IPV in the military and among Veterans, there is still uncertainty about the true extent of these issues. By providing the best available estimates to show the extent and urgency of IPV occurrences, we can help policy makers implement policies and programs to prevent and treat IPV.
  • Develop a framework for research to inform responses to IPV in military and Veteran populations, with a particular focus on health services. There is no framework for understanding the current approaches being used in the identification, prevention and treatment of IPV among military personnel and Veterans. Establishing a framework will inform of evidence-based IPV interventions in military health service environments, as well as identify areas where empirical evidence is lacking.
  • Develop partnerships and a network of cross-sector collaborative relationships, including facilitating a roundtable discussion, which will support an ongoing body of research on IPV in military and Veteran populations.

External resources

If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing IPV and needs support, here are some resources to explore:

Find more resources

Browse the knowledge hub for more evidence-based information, factsheets, reports and tips.