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Sexual Assault & Intimate Partner Violence


Sexual Assault


Intimate Partner Violence

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, WCSAFE wants to acknowledge the lives and experiences of those survivors who have been victimized at the hands of an intimate partner.


It takes strength to endure. Survive.


We want you to know that it is not your fault.


We believe you. We support you.


You are not alone.


We are here to help.


Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, or otherwise known as IPSV, can be defined as any unwanted sexual contact or activity by an intimate partner with the purpose of controlling an individual through fear, threats or violence. IPSV is the most common type of sexual violence and a common component of domestic violence, yet it is rarely discussed. In fact, most cases go unreported and service provider responses often ignore survivor’s experiences of sexual violence and/or are otherwise inadequate.

Did you Know?

  • More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner.


  • Approximately 2/3 of domestic violence victims have also been sexually assaulted by their abuser.


Sexual violence is often coupled with other abusive behaviors that a batterer uses to exert power and gain control over their partner. The power and control wheel, originated in Duluth, Minnesota,  is one of the most powerful tools used by advocates to illustrate this and how the threat/use of both physical and sexual violence (see outer rim of wheel) can reinforce the other tactics (inner spokes of the wheel) used by the perpetrator to achieve their goal (center of wheel).

Like other forms of sexual violence, it’s difficult to know the extent of IPSV. As with all forms of sexual violence, survivors are often reluctant to disclose experiences or may otherwise not recognize their experiences as sexual assault, and may not identify as victims.  While sexual violence frequently occurs in abusive relationships, sexual violence within the context of an intimate relationship carries a unique impact because it rests at the intersection of both forms of violence. It’s necessary to understand intimate partner rape as a problem distinct from domestic abuse because, for many survivors who are battered and raped, the sexual violence itself is particularly devastating and is often unaddressed by service providers.

One survivor, Linda illustrates her experience with intimate partner violence this way:

“And they say marital rape is not as bad as stranger rape. I don’t know. I have never been raped by a stranger. But I think being raped by your husband in your own home must be worse in some ways. At least if you’re attacked by a perfect stranger it is not so personal. Your husband is the person whom you should be able to turn to for comfort, who should protect you. ”


Linda is not alone. Below are just some of the issues common to IPSV victims/survivors:

  • Longer-lasting trauma: There’s a common notion that IPSV doesn’t have as bad an impact as sexual assault by a stranger. In fact, research reveals that the trauma can be longer lasting. Significant reasons for this are lack of recognition and ability to share the pain.
  • Higher levels of physical injury: If we accept that generally, most rapes are not physically violent, those that do involve injury are likely to be partner rapes.
  • The incidence of multiple rape: Although IPSV can be one-off, survivors of IPSV suffer the highest frequency of multiple rape.
  • Higher levels of anal and oral rape: Partner perpetrators commonly use these forms of assault to humiliate, punish and take ‘full’ ownership of their partners.
  • Advice to “put up with” rape: Marital rape victims are a group singularly prone to being advised by church, family or friends that they should be grateful that the rapist is a good father, and that it’s their duty to submit.
  • Financial dependency on the rapist: Survivors with children who are permitted no money or employment of their own may feel that there is no escape.
  • Safety issues: The IPSV survivor may need a place of refuge, court-orders and assistance with legal/custody matters.
  • Difficulty defining the act/s as sexual assault: Survivors are socialized to see rape as involving non-consensual sex between two strangers. Additionally, there may be reluctance to define a partner she loves as a “rapist.”
  • Psychological Effects: Survivors experiencing IPSV often carry a variety of psychological effects including depression, suicide, PTSD, anxiety, fear, self-blame, low self-esteem, and guilt. Additionally, survivors of IPSV may experience intense self-blame, shame, and confusion. Survivors of IPSV may experience confusion that is rooted in their inability to trust their own judgment, the sense of betrayal they feel at their partner, or societal beliefs that repeatedly deny her experience as one of sexual violence.

Intimate partner sexual violence (or IPSV) must also be considered from a cultural lens. Survivors from minority and underserved communities may experience more complex issues as intersections of race, class, and gender all influence the survivors experiences with the violence, which includes their engagement with systems, service providers and most importantly, their individual healing process.

In order to remove the stigma around IPSV and create opportunities for survivors to heal, we must continue acknowledging the impact sexual violence has on the lives of survivors and create opportunities for survivors to share their experiences while working to remove the stigma, shame, and seclusion that perpetuates their silence.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of IPSV, contact the advocates at WCSAFE for assistance and information on available services.


Considering the Differences: Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Discourse. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Connections Spring/Summer Edition, 2008.

Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners. Hybrid, Melbourne,  2006.

License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York, 1985.

Sexual Assault Among Intimates: Frequency, Consequence, and Treatments, NIJ, 2005.