Intimate Partner Sexual Violence

Sexual violence most often is perpetrated by someone a survivor knows, and this includes intimate partner relationships. There are many different terms to refer to sexual violence that occurs within intimate partnerships, including: intimate partner sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner rape, marital rape, and spousal rape. No matter what term is used or how the relationship is defined, it is never okay to engage in sexual activity without someone’s consent.

Who does intimate partner sexual violence affect?

Intimate partner sexual violence can occur in all types of intimate relationships regardless of gender identities or sexual orientation. Intimate partner sexual violence is not defined by gender or sexuality, but by abusive behavior. Learn more about how sexual violence can affect LGBTQ survivors and additional challenges they may face.

How does intimate partner sexual violence relate to other kinds of abuse?

Sexual violence in a relationship is rarely an isolated incident. It often occurs alongside other forms of abusive behavior, including physical and emotional abuse. For instance, the majority of women who are physically assaulted by an intimate partner have been sexually assaulted by that same partner¹.

Intimate partner sexual violence often starts with controlling behavior that can escalate to further emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Warning Signs of abuse include a partner who:

  • Attempts to cut you off from friends and family

  • Is extremely jealous or upset if you spend time away from them

  • Insults you, puts you down, says that you can never do anything right

  • Tries to prevent you from attending work or school

  • Tries to prevent you from making decisions for yourself

  • Destroys your property, attempts to harm your pets

  • Threatens to harm your children or take them away from you

  • Tells you that you are worthless and that no one else could ever love you

  • Controls your finances

To learn more about dating and domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Why should I reach out?

If you have experienced sexual assault by an intimate partner, it can be challenging to come forward for many reasons. You may be concerned for your safety or the safety of your children, worried about your financial situation or about what your family might think, still have strong feelings for your partner, or not feel like you can call what happened to you sexual assault. It’s understandable to feel this way.

Remember, ending an abusive relationship is not something that you have to do alone or on anyone else’s timeline. Reaching out for help from friends, loved ones, local organizations, or law enforcement can be a helpful first step in this process—when you are ready to take that step.

Help is available

You can find support from a confidential, non-judgmental source.

  • To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org y en Español a rainn.org/es.

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) any time, 24/7, or chat online.

  • Learn more about safety planning to brainstorm ideas for safety or escape.

Read about these survivors’ experiences with intimate partner sexual violence:

  • Sharon’s Story: “The biggest thing for me was when I got to the point where I could let go of responsibility for my husband’s actions. I held myself accountable for a long time.”

  • Tarhata’s Story: “I believed this was a normal thing that happened in relationships. The environment I was raised in catered to what boys and men wanted. I was used to living in a cultural and social perspective of masculine dominance with women being quiet and obedient.”

  • Ethan’s Story: “I truly believe it is possible to call out and prioritize sexual violence against women while also acknowledging that sexual violence affects people of all genders.”

  • Tara’s Story: "You want to say something, but worry that when you do, it could come back worse. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t report. They think no one’s going to believe them and they’re afraid of what’s going to happen to them.”

  • Lacy’s Story: “No one understood what I was going through and what it was like in that relationship. But when we were apart, I realized how great it felt to be away from him—I really wanted that freedom.”

1. Taylor, L., & Gaskin-Laniyan, N. (2007). Sexual Assault in Abusive Relationships. NIJ Journal, (256). Retrieved from http://nij.gov/journals/256/Pages/sexual-assault.aspx

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