May 1, 2020

What is Intimate Partner Domestic Violence?

Prevention at Home Video Education Series

YWCA Spokane staff have joined together to create a unique online engagement opportunity focused on cultivating increased community education and awareness surrounding issues related to intimate partner domestic violence. The eleven-part video series presents engaging, educational content for individuals from any background or current knowledge base. The videos and blog posts also offer watchers an opportunity to get to know YWCA Spokane advocates on a personal level; each contributor brings their own personality into their writing and presentation style. Each topic within the series has its own blog post, like this one, including a video. All of the other topics in the series are linked below. As you watch these videos and read the blog posts, we hope that you will gain more knowledge, explore topics that you may not have been exposed to, and empower yourself and those around to be in healthier, happier relationships. Thank you for taking the time to further your education, awareness, and understanding surrounding these critical issues. 

What is Intimate Partner Domestic Violence?


Hello, my name is Nicole Nimens and I am the Community Education and Outreach Coordinator for the YWCA Spokane. In the spirit of social distancing, I wanted to describe the basics of what Intimate Partner Violence is from our Agency’s viewpoint, the ins and outs of the various parts of the adapted YWCA Spokane Power and Control Wheel and who we serve. I did want to mention, however, that some of the material and information covered here, may be triggering to some. Please exercise self-care in this if needed, taking a moment if need be, but if you find you are needing additional support, whether you are currently a victim of Intimate Partner Violence or have experienced it in the past, please feel free to reach out to our 24-hour helpline at 509-326-2255(CALL).

We first need to define what Intimate Partner Violence is from a community organization’s view. This is not going to be a definition you would find if you were to google Intimate Partner Violence, but it is the more simplified, narrow definition within a very broad and complicated umbrella that is Domestic Violence. Intimate Partner Violence is where one intimate partner, establishes and maintains power and control over another intimate partner. This can be done in a lot of ways which we will dive into further when examining the Power and Control Wheel. This definition is specifically referring to intimate partners rather than any abusive relationship, since the YWCA Spokane IPV program is for intimate partners and the children exposed to the intimate partner violence within the home. We are not talking about neighbors, cousins, grandparents, parent to child, or friends. There are other great resources out in the community for people needing help with non-intimate partner violent relationships. 

Now that we have an idea of what we are referring to with the intimate partner violence definition, let’s dive into some ins and outs of the Power and Control Wheel. The Power and Control Wheel was originally developed in Duluth Minnesota in 1984 and it has been adapted within the last 30 years. While the legal definition of Intimate Partner Violence and/or Domestic Violence is narrower, as a community agency, we have a more broad way of identifying this violence. 

When looking at the wheel, we can see a lot of ways an abuser can assert power and control over their partner. On the outer part of the circle you can see that there is “Physical and Sexual Violence” with a lot of ways around the circle that an abuser can assert constant threat of physical or sexual violence on their partner. As a consequence of these threats, victims may struggle with whether to stay or return to their partners. They may have consistent thoughts of what could happen to them or their loved ones. Physical and sexual abuse is where a lot of victims end up identifying that they are in an abusive relationship. A lot of our community doesn’t see it as Intimate Partner Violence unless it reaches a form of physical or sexual violence; however this type of violence tends to be the most obvious and noticeable way to identify an abusive intimate relationship within the community, but there are many other non-physical ways to abuse an intimate partner. 

Within the wheel you can see several ways as to how an abuser can assert power and control over an intimate partner. Briefly I will give examples of each. 

Isolation: This often happens in the beginning of a relationship where the victim ends up engulfed in the abuser’s world almost exclusively, by the abuser’s friends, family, time table, and opinions. This is oftentimes a warning sign of an abusive intimate relationship, but the victim doesn’t normally recognize this due to love often being “blind.” People in the victim’s circle, whether coworkers, friends, or family, will see the victim slowly having no independence and becoming secluded and isolated from what was once their independent lives. Forms of communication and in-person interactions are often limited or eliminated completely. The abuser often will use jealousy to justify their actions as a way of keeping their partner close. 

Emotional Abuse: This is a form of abuse where the abuser will put the partner down, making them feel bad about themselves. For example, “you are fat,” “you are ugly,” “maybe you should go to the gym,” “I am the best thing that will ever happen to you,” “you are not smart enough to go to college.” This is also a way that abusers can play mind games on the partner and humiliate them in public or to their loved ones. These mind games often lead to making the victim feel guilty and believing what the abuser is telling them. 

Intimidation: This is a form of abuse that often goes hand and hand with the thoughts a victim has that their relationship can turn into physical or sexual violence. It can be where the abuser makes gestures or looks at the partner in an intimidating manner, causing the victim to become afraid of what could happen. It could also be destroying property in front of the victim or smashing items against the wall or on the floor. Abusing the household pets is also a way to consistently keep control over the victim. Hurting, torturing or ultimately killing the household pet is a way to keep control over their victim so they don’t disobey the abuser’s requests. If the abuser was to hurt or kill the household pet, the blame would then go onto the victim and they often would internalize this as their fault. There can also be the displaying of loaded or dangerous weapons anywhere near the victim, as a constant reminder that the situation could get a lot worse. 

Coercion and Threats: This form of abuse comes from the abuser making threats to the victim or carrying them out on the victim in various ways. It could also be threatening to get the victim fired from their place of employment, threatening to ‘out’ them to their family members if they are not ready to address their sexual orientation with others. It could also be the abuser threatening to commit suicide if the partner leaves them or threatens to hurt their loved ones if they do not drop protection orders against them. 

Immigration Status: This form of abuse can come to a victim in many ways, but a common theme seems to be where the victim is often isolated from anyone and has very limited, if any, English proficiency. This may lead the victim to not knowing how to reach out to people if needing help. Victims may not know who they can trust or if they could get deported if they were to approach law enforcement or others for help. Oftentimes this is a way for abusers to purposely mess up citizenship paperwork for the victim. Abusers may intentionally withdraw paperwork to put the victim’s citizenship in jeopardy. The abuser can also prevent the victim from learning English and will not translate what the victim says to others in the correct way, leaving out important information that the victim needs the person to know. 

Cultural Abuse: This form of abuse can come from the abuser using cultural norms as a tool to limit physical movement, justifying their physical or sexual abuse and demand the subservience of the victim to them. They can also prevent the victim from marriage with them, by accusing the victim of adultery, ultimately impacting their honor and/or the chasity. 

Spiritual Abuse: This form of abuse often takes shape in manipulating various scriptures and/or religious texts to benefit the abuser or make the victim feel that what they are doing is wrong. This can lead to the victim obeying the abuser and feeling it is their duty to be subservient to the abuser in every way, whether emotionally, mentally, physically or sexually. This can also be a powerful tool in making the victim feel guilty about any expressions to end the relationship, expressing that ‘divorce is a sin’. At times this can be reinforced by the couple seeking help from their religious entity and it being manipulated to be seen as the partner’s fault as opposed to the abuser, through couple’s counseling, which is NEVER an appropriate way to respond to an intimate partner violent relationship. This can further reinforce the supposed fault of the victim in the relationship and doesn’t allow the victim to be honest and open about what is actually happening on a daily basis.

Economic Abuse: This type of abuse is seen quite often in abusive relationships, where the abuser has ultimate control of all the household finances and income. The victim may not be permitted to work or if they do, all of the income will need to go to the abuser, where they will then decide how every last penny is spent. Or if the victim needs money in order to buy anything, they will need to beg or make an exchange for the money needed. The abuser also will often blame the victim for any problems that arise financially throughout the relationship. This control, by the abuser, over all of the financial means, often prevents the victim from saving any money to do anything without the abuser’s knowledge or the victim from trying to leave. 

Using Dominance: This form of abuse could come in ways of the abuser acting as if they are the ‘master of the castle’ and they demand that they are treated in a superior way. The abusers would often make all of the larger decisions of the relationship and would be the one to define the roles of everyone in the household or in the relationship.

Using Children: This type of abuse can come in a lot of ways such as, using the children to relay messages between the abuser and the victim or threatening the children that if they do certain things, they will no longer be able to see their parent. Abusers often will threaten the victims that they will never see their children again, to keep consistent control over the victim. The abusers also, will often seek sole custody of the shared children, and without evidence of abuse, they often will win custody of the children with the resources they have, as compared to the victim who fled with only the clothes on their backs. Abusers can also use visitations with the children as a way to keep tabs on and harass the victim. There can also be increased abuse on the children which often will lead to the victim staying to avoid the children getting further abused. 

Sexual Abuse: In an abusive relationship, the victim may be forced to have sex with their partner. In a heterosexual relationship, where the abuser is a male and the victim is a female, this type of abuse can also come in the form of manipulating the birth control so that the victim becomes pregnant. While the victim is pregnant, physical and sexual abuse often increases and can cause damage to the unborn fetus. 

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming (Gaslighting): This form of abuse is where the abuser would consistently make the victim feel as though they were going crazy or needing to question their sense of reality. In gaslighting, the abuser may consistently make light of the abuse that has occurred or say the abusive behavior didn’t happen at all, blaming it on other things such as alcohol consumption, “blacking out,” or medication usage. During this time, the abuser will make the victim feel that the abuse was their fault and they had caused it in the first place. This type of abuse makes the victim question any real form of their negative or doubtful feelings about the relationship, which may lead them to think that what they are going through isn’t abusive or that bad, ultimately leading the victim to stay or go back to the abuser.

Oftentimes people who call or come into the YWCA Spokane will not think their abuse is even abuse or is not as bad as someone else’s abuse and they don’t want to take the place of someone else getting services. We want people to understand that their abuse is valid and no one’s abuse is any less important than anyone else’s. Whether you are going through a lot of the examples presented above, or just a piece of the overall wheel, know that you don’t deserve to be abused, you are worth it, and that we are here to help in a variety of ways, whenever you may need us. 

Our program on Intimate Partner Violence at the YWCA Spokane serves anyone who is a victim or survivor of Intimate Partner Violence, whether in the past or currently happening. You could be ready to leave, have no intention of leaving, or have already left and we will be here to navigate with you. We serve women, men, non-binary, and the LGBTQ+ community and all of our services are free and confidential. There is no requirement of proof needed to seek services at YWCA Spokane. Please know that if you are seeking services, there is no requirement of proof needed that you are experiencing abuse. While we may not be able to meet all of your needs, we are here to help support and empower you to the best of our ability.  

Our goal is to make you feel empowered and give you your autonomy back through sincere and honest interactions and services. We will support you in your decisions while recognizing and approaching our interactions with you knowing that you are the expert in your own life, and we are not walking in your shoes. At the YWCA Spokane and on our 24/7 helpline, we are dedicated to educating, supporting, and helping others feel safe.

Written content and video for this topic within the Prevention at Home series provided by YWCA Spokane staff member, Nicole Nimens.

Continue Learning with Prevention at Home!

Explore more topics on your journey empowering yourself and those around you by visiting the following blog posts and watching the other videos in our prevention at home series.

  1. Services at YWCA Spokane
  2. What is Intimate Partner Domestic Violence
  3. Red Flags and the Relationship Spectrum
  4. Respect, Boundaries, and Consent
  5. Teen Domestic Violence
  6. Why Do They Stay or Go Back
  7. Trauma and the Brain
  8. Safety Planning
  9. Self Care
  10. Self Regulation
  11. How to Help a Friend

External Resources for Continuing Education

YWCA Spokane staff members have collected the following external links for you to further your education.


If you or someone you know is impacted by intimate partner domestic violence, know that confidential advocates are always available through our 24hr helpline services by calling 509-326-2255, emailing, or texting 509-220-3725. 

To learn more about accessing additional services through YWCA Spokane during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit Thank you!

By: Mia Morton

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