Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of people in the United States. IPV describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm or stalking by a current or former partner or spouse [1]. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy. In the US, 1 in 6 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and nearly 1 in 2 female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner [1].

Sexual violence is any sexual activity where consent is not freely given. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports that more than 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives [2].

Many forms of sexual violence are physical violations, but other examples of sexual violence don’t involve any form of touch, for example sharing or sending a person’s photo without permission, talking about someone in a sexually explicit way, depriving someone of privacy, street harassment, threatening someone on social media, or spreading a rumor, are all examples of minimized forms of sexual violence that can be traumatic [3].

In the 2019 DC Community Health Needs Assessment Survey, 6% of respondents identified IPV and Sexual Violence as one of the five most important issues that affect the health of their community. Among the respondents who have experienced gender-based discrimination, one in five report that they are threatened or harassed as frequently as a few times a month.

DC Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement: 4th Annual Peace Rally

In the United States, we know that communities of color experience higher rates of violence and exposure to violence due to a complex web of factors. We also know that this burden impacts other oppressed groups who share intersecting identities, including women and the LGBTQ community. Sexual violence impacts health in many ways and can result in both short and long-term physical health problems such as, chronic pain and STIs, as well as mental health problems such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and mistrust of others [2]. Promoting healthy and respectful relationships can help reduce sexual violence, but deeper structural work must be done to combat the socialization of boys and men to seek pleasure from power, dominance, and objectification of women. If violence is reduced in these communities, inequities connected to violence such as poor birth outcomes, life expectancy, and chronic disease prevalence, will decrease in turn, creating healthier, safer communities and homes so that people can reach their fullest potential [4].

In the District, IPV/domestic violence continues to be a primary driver for housing loss among women, resulting in victims’ increased vulnerability to housing instability and homelessness. In 2017, nearly a third of women who experienced homelessness in the District said violence was the cause and over 75% have historical experiences of violence including sexual abuse, dating violence, intimate partner violence or stalking [5]. People who are fleeing domestic violence are immediately eligible for federally‐funded homeless programs, regardless of how long they have been without housing.


In 2017, 8.5% of high school students reported that they had ever been forced to have sexual intercourse and 14.1% reported experiencing physical dating violence in the past year [6]. Black and Latinx students were nearly three times more likely to have experienced dating violence than White students [6]. In 2018, a Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice Institute and Rights4Girls report on girls in the District’s juvenile justice system, documented that while sexual violence cuts across race, ethnicity and class, young women and girls who are socioeconomically marginalized experience sexual violence and trauma that often funnels them into the juvenile justice system through a Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline. Evidence shows that Black girls are more likely to be seen as hypersexual and more likely to be treated as older than they are. They are also less likely to be seen as victims of violence and trauma, and as a result they are more vulnerable to justice involvement when it results from unaddressed trauma [7].

Transgender Women

Transgender people face extraordinary levels of physical and sexual violence in both public and private environments and interactions. More than one in four trans individuals have faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color [8]. The 2015 US Transgender Survey report found that among transgender or gender non-conforming people, nearly half (47%) of respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Almost one-quarter (24%) had experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner compared to 18% in the US population. Among transgender and gender non-conforming people who have interacted with police, 58% reported some form of mistreatment, including verbal harassment, being referred to as the incorrect gender, physical assault, and sexual assault [9].

In 2019, fatal attacks against transgender people prompted the American Medical Association to adopt a plan to help bring national attention to the epidemic of violence against the transgender community, especially the amplified physical dangers faced by transgender people of color. According to the Human Rights Campaigns of 2019, at least 18 transgender people have been violently killed, three of whom were Black Transwomen in the greater metropolitan Washington area.

According to available tracking, fatal anti-transgender violence in the U.S. is on the rise and most victims were black transgender women. The number of victims could be even higher due to underreporting and better data collection by law enforcement is needed to create strategies that will prevent anti-transgender violence. 

S. Bobby Mukkamala, M.D

The American Medical Association Board Member


Promising Practices & Policies:

• Research Across the Walls: A Guide to Participatory Research Projects & Partnerships to Free Criminalized Survivors

• The Violence Against Women Act provides protections for victims of domestic violence who utilize housing assistance. DC regulations require that if a family is separated because of domestic violence, the victim is protected to continue receiving housing assistance.

 Legislation for Eliminating the Gay and Trans Panic Defenses

• MICH-III Screen women related to intimate partner and/or sexual violence and refer to services if warranted.

• One of the most widely recommended interventions for victims of IPV is personalized and victim-centered safety plans. Safety plans should consider many complex individual and community factors, and should create a pathway to safety that limits risks of violence (SAMHSA).

• The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends targeted primary prevention interventions that focus on teaching youth healthy relationship skills, promoting social norms that protect against violence, and creating protective environments (CPSTF).

 The Address Confidentiality Act of 2018 went into effect in August 2019. This program will provide address confidentiality for victims of domestic violence, sexual crimes, stalking and human trafficking, and employees of organizations that serve those victims. It will also provide address confidentiality to reproductive-health clinic employees.

• Street Harassment Prevention Act of 2018  is a first of its kind legal measure in the United States that: (1) creates a legal definition of street harassment; (2) establishes a community-based Advisory Committee to study street harassment and develop model policies and trainings; and (3) requires a public information campaign on street harassment. It was designed to uniquely focus on prevention through education instead of criminalization.

Funding Opportunities

•  Family Violence Prevention


Citations & Additional Data Resources

1. CDC. Intimate Partner Violence. 2018

2. CDC. Preventing Sexual Violence. 2019

3. DC Rape Crisis Center. Myths About Sexual Violence. 2019

4. APHA. Violence is a Public Health Issue: Public Health is Essential to Understanding and Treating Violence in the U.S. 2018

5. DC Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2017 DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report. 2018

6. DC YRBS 2017

7. Rights4Girls and the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative. Beyond the Walls: A Look at Girls in D.C.’s Juvenile Justice System. 2018

8. National Center for Transgender Equality. Issues: Anti-Violence. 2019

9. National Center for Transgender Equality. 2015 US Transgender Survey Report. 2015

Photo Credits:

•  “Women’s March on Washington,” Molly Adams. CC BY 2.0

• Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

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