Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Power and Control wheel, with inclusive language

Intimate partner violence is the intentional use of abusive tactics and/or physical force in order to obtain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It is a crime to assault or batter anyone, including an intimate partner or ex-partner.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states that intimate partner violence is primarily a crime committed against women, and the CDC’s statistics indicate that the majority of women indicate that their perpetrators were male; therefore this handout is gender specific and assumes heterosexuality. However, we recognize that individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations experience sexual violence, and both SAPAC and SafeHouse provide services to all survivors or domestic/intimate partner violence or sexual assault regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Each tactic listed below can be used by an abuser or perpetrator to gain power and control over the victim.  One or more parts may be present in an abusive relationship. No tactic is less important or impactful than any other.

  • Using Intimidation- An abuser may use threats of physical violence or even subtler tactics, such as the invasion of personal space, displays of physical size and strength, or certain looks, gestures, or other body language to intimidate and thereby gain control over their partner.
  • Using Emotional Abuse- An abuser may demean and belittle their partner in order to gain control by making them feel worthless, embarrassed, and helpless. Examples may include making comments on their partner’s weight, appearance, or intelligence. This can often occur in public places and/or social settings. 
  • Using Isolation- This tactic is used by an abuser to gain control over their partner by isolating them from friends and family.  An abuser may claim to be disliked by the friends and family of their partner and use this as a reason for not letting their partner associate with them. Often abusers will withhold phone calls and messages from family members and friends as a form of isolation. An abuser will generally attempt to gain control by cutting off supportive figures in their partner’s life.
  • Minimizing, Denying, Blaming- This tactic is employed by an abuser to rationalize their actions, to make the victim feel like they are to blame for the abuse, to minimize the impact of their actions, and to pretend that their behavior is not really abusive. An abuser might claim that their partner is being “too sensitive,” or that an incident of abuse was simply a “misunderstanding.” They may also directly blame their partner for the abuse, and attempt to justify an incident by blaming it on their partner’s actions and making their partner responsible. 
  • Using Children- In a relationship that involves children, an abuser may hurt the children or threaten to take them away from their partner. While this tactic may not seem relevant in a violent relationship that does not involve children, this tactic may manifest in different ways – for example, an abuser may threaten to harm or take away their partner’s pet.
  • Using Male Privilege- A male or masculine-identified abuser will often find ways to gain power and control by exploiting the male privilege bestowed upon him by male-dominated society. They may do this by enforcing rigid gender roles, treating their partner like a servant or sex object, or by making all of the decisions, whether personal, financial, or otherwise. 
  • Using Economic Abuse- An abuser may prevent their partner from obtaining a job, or interfere with their work and jeopardize employment in order to maintain their partner’s financial dependency on them, thus potentially making it difficult for their partner to leave. An abuser may have sole control over their partner’s finances or give them an “allowance.” He may also interfere with academic activities or attempt to compromise their partner’s scholarships and/or jeopardize future goals.
  • Using Coercion and Threats- An abuser may use this tactic to stop their partner from leaving the relationship, or to facilitate sexual abuse.  For example, the abuser may start throwing things, threaten to kill their partner, or threaten to injure their friends or family. The abuser may also threaten to commit suicide if their partner leaves them, attempting to make their partner so guilty that they decide to stay. These are all methods of gaining power and control.