Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse in the U.S.

In 2017, there were 2,237 victims of intimate partner homicide in the United States of America — that’s six people a day, every day, killed by an intimate partner. And we’re likely to find that number has increased over the past two years considering that number has been on the rise since 2014. In 2014 the total was 1,875, in 2015 the total was 2,096, and in 2016 the total was 2,149. While men do die at the hands of their partners, they only make up 5 percent of the intimate partner homicides in the cases in the U.S.

How is This Phenomenon Treated in the Court System?

While the worst-case scenario is murder, intimate partner violence (IPV) is a common issue in the US. IPV includes physical abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. The exact numbers are difficult to pin down; however, about one in four woman experience IPV in their lifetimes – which works out to about 41 million victims in the U.S. One of the biggest issues with IPV is that most woman don’t understand the gravity of what they’re experiencing until something very scary happens. As Lundy Bancroft, a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men and the author of Why Does He Do That, puts it:

One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don’t seem like abusers.

They have many good qualities, including times of kindness, warmth, and humor, especially in the early period of a relationship. An abuser’s friends may think the world of him. He may have a successful work life and have no problems with drugs or alcohol. He may simply not fit anyone’s image of a cruel or intimidating person. So when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.

Lundy has completed more than 25 years of counseling work. More than 1000 abusive men have participated in his programs. Another one of his important observations is this: “The vast majority of women who say that they are being abused are telling the truth. I know this to be true because the abusers let their guard down with me, belying their denial.” They learn how to manipulate their partners — and the entire judicial system – because the system usually requires concrete proof of a crime. When that proof is in the form of statements from abused women and their families, many judges don’t deem the proof sufficient. While an order of protection may be granted, the actual abuse is usually not deemed a punishable crime.

What Happens When Children Are Involved?

You guessed it … not much. Here’s Lundy Bancroft again:

“Courts are highly reluctant to curtail fathers’ access to their children. As a number of court employees have said to me over the years, “There are so many fathers out there who abandon their children, and here I have a Dad who wants to be involved, you’re telling me I should discourage him?” As a result, they tend to hold fathers to much lower standards than mothers. Supervised visitation is not often imposed. If used, it usually gets lifted within a few months as long as the father behaves well under supervision, as most abusive men do.”

But if a man abuses his wife, it’s much more likely he’ll abuse his children. Abusive men are not abusive because they dislike women. They’re abusive because they’ve been raised in environments in which they feel entitled, and they become obsessed with power and control. If a child disobeys him or isn’t focused on his needs, the rage and abuse will rear its ugly head. Should children be expected to cater to the abusive man? Even if they behave accordingly, will that even ensure the abuse won’t occur?

Why Don’t Women Just Leave?

Abusive men are not terrible monsters 100 percent of the time. If they were, the world would see their vicious behaviors and hold them accountable. Abusive men are only terrible monsters behind closed doors and only a percentage of the time. The cycle of abuse consists of four phases – Tensions Building, Incident, Reconciliation, and Calm – though they are not predictable or precisely followed in every case. With only half of these phases being negative, women involved in these types of relationships are usually convinced to stay, thinking the abuse won’t happen again – even though it’ll likely worsen over time. Sometimes the Reconciliation and Calm phases can last for a year or more. When that’s the case, it can seem as if the abuse is over; and he has officially changed.

While it’s possible for an abusive man to change, it’s a decades-long or lifelong battle to truly overcome abusive tendencies. If a man claims to change in a short period of time — or still blames his victims and makes excuses — chances are he hasn’t changed. He and those he abuses are simply in the Reconciliation or Calm phase. With years between Incidents, it’s no wonder people remain stuck in such relationships.

There is Help

While the court system is still largely unfazed by most of these facts, many organizations offer free counseling, support, and assistance to sufferers of abuse and IPV. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start by recommending sources of local help. I live in southeastern Connecticut and proudly support our local domestic violence agency, Safe Futures.

Sharing knowledge of and information about abuse and IPV is powerful. The more people know, the more they can be part of judicial reform. Until abuse and IPV are taken seriously by family court judges, I’ll remain skeptical about whether we can really call the courts part of a justice system.


JoAnna Bennett
I’m a working single mother of two wonderful little humans. I’m also an avid reader, an insatiable learner, and a self-acknowledged survivor. I’m grateful to work at O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) because I’ve learned the self-soothing and restorative craft of writing. I used to resist calling myself a writer because I have a finance degree. I naively thought I needed an English degree to effectively express myself in writing. But now, writer is a title I proudly wear, and writing is something I’ll practice for the rest of my life. OCG is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do this so well because we get to know our clients, listen to their reasons for existing, and share their message loudly and proudly.


  1. Joanna, insightful article on a topic I am very familiar with in more ways than one. As a police officer who responded to more than I care to admit “domestic violence”, I found that most of the tendencies of abusiveness from men were due to a lack of a father figure, or a father who was also an abuser. Your article brings to light an awareness needed consantly.

  2. Hi Joanna,

    Again, welcome! There is so much I could say about this subject, but I try to be succinct. First of all, thank you! Secondly, over the years, I have seen many women who are married to professionally successful men that are quite emotionally abusive, usually but not always, behind closed doors. Belittling happens alone as well as in front of their children.
    Consequently, the children view their mother as being unappreciative and wasteful of the primary breadwinner’s earnings. The children and the spouse forget that one spouse often holds everything together, which assists the other in achieving the lofty levels of success. Some leave the abusive relationship, some never will, and it is not because of the money but their identity as being part of a couple. When others have been around, they do not always intervene even if the scorned individual has tears running down their face. I always say to those who choose not that I hope someday they will choose a better life. Although to a far lesser degree, I have seen men whose wives control and belittle them as well as encourage parental alienation, an alarming but stealth phenomenon that occurs more than not. I have witnessed happening professionally, and I hear about it personally. Thank you again for this ageless but complicated issue. I guess I wasn’t so brief.💖

  3. JoAnna, your powerful article is so well-timed because it follows hot on the heels of a riveting, gut-wrenching account of IPV in action written by one of this site’s contributors. Even more so since this horrifying abuse (like femicide) is escalating in Europe and other parts of the world.

    I believe that there are several concatenated reasons for this disturbing reality. Significantly, the common weave is the trap of fear and stasis that abused women fall into. Both boys and girls need to be taught what is respectful and acceptable in an intimate relationship – even question long-held cultural norms. And this guidance also needs to be inextricably linked to self-dignity which has become an alien concept – at least in my part of the world.

    As for the court system, quite frankly it will take more than a miracle to see a modicum of progress in this regard for as Dickens rightly said ‘the law is an ass’. A remark which was and is still highly relevant.

    The onus is therefore on all of us to instigate change – in the right direction – at the grassroots and across the board.

    • Thank you for you comment Noemi. I couldn’t agree more. Change starts with us which is why I wrote this post. I’m going through some issues with the courts and find it to be appalling how difficult it is to make progress – even with evidence. So now it’s time to use my voice. Share what I know and share it loudly.

  4. Welcome Joanna!
    The topic is important and has no geographical or cultural boundaries. The more we talk about it, the more the institutions and also all the others take responsibility. Violence is a structural phenomenon of the entire international community, of our societies; and it is used as a tool to control women’s life, affecting every space of women’s existence: in the family, at work, on the street, in newspapers, in courts, in hospitals, in schools.
    We live in a society where “respecting” towards others is now a rare attitude, where respect for the value of life, one’s own and others’ is being lost. Respect is not written in the laws, but certainly in the chromosomes of our DNA. Respect is that attitude that arises from the awareness of the value of something or someone, that is, of the value of the human being. Respect is that desire to stop before the sacredness of the human being. The “justice system” is not always able to “protect” it and that the State, despite the set of written laws, sometimes fails to guarantee its safety.
    Unfortunately, it is precisely “the socio-cultural attitudes of tolerance of domestic violence” that persist.The fear of these situations is enormous. Everyone is afraid, the victim, his relatives if they know, the neighbors, anyone knows what is going on. With the aggravating circumstance that the victim often deludes himself that those who use violence can change them.
    Society must play a fundamental role We are all part of the puzzle of civil society and with all our gestures we can contribute to creating those “measures necessary to promote changes in socio-cultural behavior” and ensure that culture, uses, customs, religion, tradition and so-called “honor,” cannot be used to justify violence.
    In recent years, sensitivity has changed above all. Certainly, a greater attention has been developed by all towards the phenomenon of violence, together with a new awareness. We are witnessing a cultural change that occurs naturally. It is probably necessary to direct it, even with regulatory support, towards an evolution, preventing, instead, an involution. Laws, however, are not enough because not all results can be obtained with legislative measures; respect and civilization cannot be imposed with a coercive rule. Social control is needed and this cannot be imposed ex lege.
    I believe that the work of prevention and protection must go through the collaboration of the male world. In particular, I believe that every man has the duty to intervene to “educate” his own kind of respect for every human being, even of different sex.
    In gender-based violence, the focus must be on gender.

    • Thank you for your comment Aldo. I think we are in an important shift at the moment. While women may have been able to vote for over 100 years, our society remained patriarchal. But as an entire gender we are learning our power and using our voices. I’m lucky to be raising a son and a daughter and intend to teach them both about respecting others. There was a saying when I grew up “It’s a man’s world.” And I disagree! It is our world. And I’m going to use my voice as loudly and proudly as I can.

  5. A powerful piece you provided us, JoAnna. I also like the support you put forward in sharing of resources and current facts around a very prevalent societal issue. Thanks for joining BIzCatalyst as well as contributing your viewpoints, passion, and expertise.

  6. Welcome, Joanna! This is a great piece about a horrible situation that few people understand unless they’re in the thick of it. That’s why, as you stated, the sharing of knowledge is so vital. Thank you for doing just that.

  7. Joanna: Good information in a very readable format. Thanks. I suspect the numbers you site for 2017 are understated and are much higher today than 2-3 years ago. I base that opinion on what I hear from police officers, and of course, they don’t see much of it, particularly in the early stages and in mental/emotional abuse situations. Welcome to the group.

  8. Joanna – First, wonderful article on an important topic that does not get the attention it deserves. So, thank you for being brave enough to begin the discussion.

    And welcome to the BC360 family of writer. May you find the engagement thought provoking but respectful, the encouragement a motivational tool to make you a better writer, and the friendships a gift to your life.