Intimate Partner Violence and Risky Behaviour

Zoe Dawson

April 21, 2023

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Romantic relationships often contribute to positive mental health outcomes for intimate partners [1]. Still, under certain conditions, relationships can have a significant, long-term negative impact on individuals’ health and well-being. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a term used to describe physical, verbal/symbolic (psychological), or sexual acts that cause – or have reasonable potential to cause— harm to an intimate partner, often to maintain control over them [2]. IPV does not affect all individuals at the same rate; research has indicated that this kind of violence is gendered, with women experiencing IPV more often than men [3]. According to the World Heath Organization, approximately one in three women across the globe have endured physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their partner [4]. Victims of IPV may experience deteriorations in their mental and/or physical health, which can manifest into psychological disorders and associated symptoms, such as depression [5], posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [6], and anxiety [7]. Additionally, individuals experiencing IPV may engage in self-damaging behaviours in order to cope. 

Individuals experiencing or who have experienced IPV are at elevated risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour [8] and suicidality [9].

  • Risky sexual behaviour: Often characterized by having more than one sexual partner, irregular condom use, engaging in sexual behaviours at a young age, and using substances before participating in sexual acts [8]. 
  • Suicidality: Includes the thought of and/or attempt(s) of suicide [7]. 

Risky sexual behaviour and suicidality are two forms of self-damaging behaviour that women are at risk of engaging in as a result of IPV victimization [10]. In particular, psychological IPV is associated with engagement in risky sexual behaviour, which may partially explain the link between experiences with psychological abuse and avoidance symptoms associated with PTSD. Individuals experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress due to psychological abuse will often engage in avoidance of their thoughts and feelings to manage their painful emotions [5].

Managing fear and violent experiences in any close relationship can leave individuals feeling exhausted, as though there is no safe way forward. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are associated with the experience of many forms of trauma [9], for example, receiving threatening messages from a partner [11]. Overall, individuals who have experienced all forms of abuse characterized by IPV are at a higher risk of developing depression [6] and/or PTSD [9] and are much more likely to experience suicidality than individuals who have not experienced IPV [8, 10]. Accessible psychological treatments tailored to those who have experienced IPV are critical, given the prevalence of partner violence and its devastating impact on well-being.

Treatment for individuals who have experienced IPV:

A wide range of adverse effects can occur as a result of current or past IPV victimization. Thankfully, protective factors and treatments have been identified and developed to help buffer these effects once basic safety needs are met [12]. Research has indicated that social support can act as a protective factor for those experiencing IPV, and that decreased social support is related to an increased likelihood of suicidality [9]. Additionally, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches combining journaling with self-awareness techniques in tandem with IPV support group programs are effective, especially for people with symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress [6]. IPV can be a dehumanizing experience, causing those impacted to feel devalued, which can be detrimental to the healing process. Learning skills such as relationship literacy (e.g., understanding healthy relationship behaviours), conflict resolution, and identifying relationship satisfaction, decreased women’s likelihood of staying in a relationship that involved emotional and physical IPV [13]. Treatments focused on helping women connect with their external environments by enhancing their sense of value and purpose have been demonstrated to reduce levels of suicidality [7].

Although the destructive effects of IPV can overwhelm many areas of life, treatment options are available to help facilitate healing and restore a sense of value, safety, and agency in those affected.

Learn More & Resources

IPV Info & Safety

Journal of the American Medical Association Clinical Reviews Podcast. Episode on Intimate Partner Violence (Women’s Health Series).

Government of Canada Fact Sheet: Intimate Partner Violence. for women and their children seeking safety from violence and abuse.

The Cridge Centre for the Family (BC Community Resources).

Victoria Women’s Transition House.

Sexual Health

Sex safety (Island Sexual Health)

High Risk Sexual Behaviour (HealthLink BC)


For general information and resources on suicidal thoughts and behaviour please see our previous blog post here.

To find immediate help for yourself or someone you know, click here.


[1] Dunkel Schetter, C. (2017). Moving research on health and close relationships forward—a challenge and an obligation: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 72(6), 511–516.

[2] Heyman, R. E., Slep, A. M. S., & Foran, H. M. (2015). Enhanced definitions of intimate partner violence for DSM‐5 and ICD‐11 may promote improved screening and treatment. Family Process, 54(1), 64-81.

[3] Potter, L. C., Morris, R., Hegarty, K., García-Moreno, C., & Feder, G. (2020). Categories and health impacts of intimate partner violence in the World Health Organization multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence. International Journal of Epidemiology, 50(2), 652–662.

[4] World Health Organization Press. (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence. . In Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence (pp. 16–20).

[5] Overstreet, N. M., Willie, T. C., Hellmuth, J. C., & Sullivan, T. P. (2015). Psychological intimate partner violence and sexual risk behavior: Examining the role of distinct posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in the partner violence–sexual risk link. Women’s Health Issues, 25(1), 73–78.

[6] Karakurt, G., Koç, E., Katta, P., Jones, N., & Bolen, S. D. (2022). Treatments for female victims of intimate partner violence: Systematic Review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 13(793021), 1–13.

[7] Taylor, P. (2020). Hunting to feel human, the process of women’s help-seeking for suicidality after intimate partner violence: A feminist grounded theory and Photovoice study. Global Qualitative Nursing Research, 7, 1–14.

[8] Littleton, H., Breitkopf, C. R., & Berenson, A. (2007). Sexual and physical abuse history and adult sexual risk behaviors: Relationships among women and potential mediators. Child Abuse & Neglect, 31(7), 757–768.

[9] Munro, V. E., & Aitken, R. (2019). From hoping to help: Identifying and responding to suicidality amongst victims of domestic abuse. International Review of Victimology, 26(1), 29–49.

[10] Scheer, J. R., McConocha, E., Behari, K., & Pachankis, J. E. (2019). Sexual violence as a mediator of sexual orientation disparities in alcohol use, suicidality, and sexual-risk behaviour among female youth. Psychology & Sexuality, 12(1-2), 37–51.

[11] McManus, S., Bebbington, P. E., Tanczer, L., Scott, S., & Howard, L. M. (2021). Receiving threatening or obscene messages from a partner and mental health, self-harm and suicidality: Results from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 1–11.

[12] Yakubovich, A. R., Stöckl, H., Murray, J., Melendez-Torres, G. J., Steinert, J. I., Glavin, C. E., & Humphreys, D. K. (2018). Risk and protective factors for intimate partner Violence Against Women: Systematic Review and meta-analyses of prospective–longitudinal studies. American Journal of Public Health, 108(7), 1–11.

[13] Antle, B. F., Karam, E., Christensen, D. N., Barbee, A. P., & Sar, B. K. (2011). An evaluation of healthy relationship education to reduce intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Social Work, 14(5), 387–406.

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