What is Intimate Partner Rape?

In the past, sexual assault was thought to be assault by a stranger upon an unsuspecting victim. As we've learned more about sexual assault and rape, it's become clear that much sexual assault occurs between two people who do, in fact, know one another.

Intimate Partner Rape (also called Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV) or Marital Rape) is a rape or sexual assault that occurs between two people who currently have - or have had - a consensual sexual relationship. Intimate Partner Rape may occur in relationships that have an existing pattern of domestic violence.

Intimate Partner Rape can occur in ANY type of partnership - dating relationships, marriages, and gay or lesbian relationships.

Most states now recognize that rape within a marriage or long-term intimate relationship is illegal and can be prosecuted.

Rape Versus Sexual Assault:

While state laws may vary, the generally accepted definitions of rape and sexual assault are as follows:

Rape - Forcible penetration of the vagina or anus with finger, penis, or object. Rape is also forced oral contact upon genitals.

Sexual Assault - Any unwanted sexual touching, such as forced kissing, handling of breasts or vagina, forcing one partner to fondle the other's genitals, or forcing one to watch pornography.

Rape and sexual assault may be used interchangeably.

Forms of Intimate Partner Rape and Sexual Assault:

It is important to realize that one does not have to have physically fought off or said "no" for an act to be regarded as sexual assault. Tears or other expressions of discomfort are reasonable indicators that sexual activity is not desired.

Sexually violent partners often do not seek consent, or if one does say no, it does not stop the sexual activity. Emotional abuse and manipulation are often used in conjunction with sexual assault and rape.

Submission is never the same as consent. The following methods may be used to manipulate or abuse a partner:

  • Threats toward the partner, their property, or someone else

  • Using guilt to engage in sexual relations

  • Sexual activity after continuous pressure to engage in sex before you're ready

  • Pressure to perform acts which make a person uncomfortable

  • Physical violence

  • Continued sexual activity after it's indicated that sexual activity is no longer welcome (even if consent was given initially)

  • Overpowering with physical force

  • Deprivation of liberty until demands of a sexual activity are met

  • Sexual intercourse while asleep or incapacitated

  • Denying reproductive choice to partner

  • Filming or photographing sexual acts without consent

  • Using sexually degrading names

  • Making degrading comments about sexual performance ("you're shitty in bed") or body ("you're a fatass") alone or in front of others

  • Controlling choice of clothes

  • Implying that a past rape was not rape or that "you liked it"

What are Some Common Reactions to Intimate Partner Rape?

Any rape or sexual assault may lead to a variety of reactions - some immediate, others longer-term. These reactions depend upon many things, including past experiences, type of force used, relationship of offender to the victim, and age of the victim. Here are some common ways that victims handle intimate partner rape:

  • Rationalization - "It was just that once." "It's my fault." "I led him on."

  • Minimizing - "Hey, at least he didn't beat me." "It's not so bad."

  • Dissociation - "I don't have any feelings about this." "I can't think about it." "I won't think about it."

  • Denial - "That didn't happen." "Rape happens with strangers, not partners." "He would never hurt me."

  • Focus upon the good - "Think of all the GOOD things we have." "She/he really IS a good person," which means the victim is the bad one.

  • Self-soothing behaviors - watching television, showers, smoking, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

  • Submitting to additional sexual assaults to avoid a repeat of the rape.

  • Strong sense of betrayal and shock that someone they loved could sexually assault them.

  • Humiliation and a feeling of being "dirty."

  • Anger and Guilt - if they'd been better partners, the rape wouldn't have occurred.

  • Inability to trust another intimate partner or feel comfortable being intimate again.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Because victims of intimate partner rape usually have homes and children with the attacker, they are often unlikely to report rape and other forms of abuse. This means a victim of Intimate Partner Rape has likely been raped repeatedly.

Those who have experienced Intimate Partner Rape may experience more shame and self-loathing for being in - or remaining in - an abusive relationship.

As the rapist is someone the victim had chosen to be intimate with, the victim may begin to question who he or she may trust.

Types of Partner Rape:

There's been a common belief that rape is about sex. It's not. Rape, especially partner rape, is about power, violence, and control.

  • Anger Rape - this type of rape is particularly violent and performed in retaliation, as punishment if a man believes his partner deserves it. This especially occurs in response to her leaving, flirting with someone else, or showing him up.

  • Sadistic Rape - Anger rape is performed to punish a woman, but sadistic rape is performed when the attacker enjoys causing pain or humiliating his partner. This may involve cutting, biting, burning, or urinating on his victim to humiliate her.

  • Power Rape - this type of rape is a clear demonstration of "who the boss" is. Abusive partners often want sex after beating their partners, and this type of rape forces a woman to forget the fight and make up. This rape may not be violent, but it may instead involve force. This type of rape occurs when a woman is bullied into sex or intimidated into giving in to keep the peace.

  • Obsessive Rape - any type of rape by a partner who insists upon performing repeated bizarre or fetish-like sex. This may involve repeated oral or anal rape.

Why do People Stay After They've Been Raped by Their Partner?

There are many reasons that people stay with an abusive partner. What you decide to do is ultimately up to you, and you don't owe it to anybody to explain your motivations. If you stay, you should have the same amount of love and support as ANY other sexual assault victim.

What follows are some common reasons that people stay in an abusive relationship:

  • Belief that the sexual assault was their fault

  • Unable to call what happened "rape," as it occurred within a partnership

  • Frightened by the implications of reporting the rape

  • Genuine love for the partner

  • Traditional views on marriage and responsibility

  • Fear that if he or she leaves, he or she will be killed

  • Have been threatened by loss of children

  • Threats of suicide

  • Financial dependence

  • Nowhere else to go

  • Great partner in other ways

  • Has been abused as a child and sees abuse as normal

  • Religious reasons

If your partner is physically violent, please see the steps below should you decide to leave. Abusers do tend to escalate their abuse, and there is no assurance that you'll avoid further harm by staying.

Help for Domestic Abuse Victims:

A State By State List of Resources for Battered Women

Prepare for Emergencies:

  • Be on the lookout for the red flags that the abuser is getting upset and may be ready to strike out in anger; try to come up with a couple reasons to get out of the house if you feel that you are in imminent danger.

  • Establish a code word, phrase, or symbol for “call the police.” Teach it to everyone you are in contact with.

  • Establish the safe areas of the house that you can retreat to if the abuser attacks. Avoid enclosed spaces with no exits. If you can, get to a room with a phone or a window.

Have an Escape Plan:

  • Be ready to go at any time. Have the car gassed up, driver’s door unlocked, keys handy. Have emergency cash, documents, and clothing stashed somewhere safe.

  • Practice your escape.

  • Memorize a list of emergency contacts including local shelters, police, and domestic violence hotlines.

  • Find domestic violence shelters in your area and see which will accept your family. Here is a state-by-state list of Domestic Violence Shelters.

Protect Your Privacy:

Computer Safety:

  • You are safest on a computer outside your home.

  • Be cautious on email and IM if you are seeking help for domestic violence that way. Your abuser may be able to access your account.

  • Change usernames and passwords for all accounts. Even if you believe that your abuser doesn’t have access to them, there are keylogging programs that can easily determine that information.

Phone Safety:

  • Use corded phones rather than cordless telephones. Corded phones are harder to tap.

  • Use a prepaid phone card or call collect so that the charges don’t appear on your phone bill.

  • Check your cell phone settings as there are many technologies that your abuser can use to listen in on your calls or track your location, even if you do not answer the phone.

  • Get your own cell phone that your abuser doesn’t know about.

Safety After You’ve Left:

  • Get an unlisted phone number

  • Use a PO Box rather than home address

  • Apply for state’s address confidentiality program (it will confidentially forward all mail to your home)

  • Cancel all old bank accounts and credit cards. When you open new accounts, use a new bank.

  • You may want to get a restraining order, BUT DO NOT FEEL FALSELY COMFORTED BY ONE. Not all states enforce restraining orders. Contact your state’s Domestic Violence Coalition.

  • Change your routine if you’re living in the same area

If You Suspect Someone is Being Abused:

If you suspect someone is being abused and you’re hesitating, please, open your mouth and ask. The victim may not want to talk about it and may tell you that you’re wrong, and maybe you are wrong; but sometimes, expressing concern may save a life. 
How do you talk to someone you suspect is being abused? Simple:

“I’ve noticed this, this, and this (your reasons for suspecting domestic violence) and I’m concerned about you. Can I help?”

Maybe they won’t want to talk to you then; but knowing someone cares about them, sometimes that’s a port in a storm.

If you ask, be ready to support the person in a positive way.

  • Talk to this person in private.
  • Let go of all your preconceived notions of domestic violence and people who are abused.
  • Remember, as frustrating as it is, there is no quick fix solution to domestic abuse.
  • To empower this person, learn a little about domestic violence. Find out the services in your area that may be available.
When you are listening, remember:
  • Support and respect this person and the decisions he or she makes - even if you do not agree with them.
  • Believe this person and tell them so.
  • Validate his or her feelings.”Your feelings are very normal.”
  • Do not judge this person when responding to what he or she says.
  • Offer specific forms of help. “I can help you find a counselor” versus, “Let me know what you need.”
  • Point out ways that he or she has been strong and courageous.
  • Tell the victim that the abuse is not her fault and avoid bashing the abuser.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Domestic Abuse


Emotional Abuse



Post-traumatic stress disorder

Teen Rape

Teen Dating Abuse

How to Help A Loved One Who Is In An Abusive Relationship

How to Cope With An Abusive Relationship

Additional Intimate Partner Rape Resources:

Aphrodite Wounded - support site for women survivors of intimate partner sexual assault and educational resources for professionals and students.

Pandora's Project - nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information, support, and resources to survivors of rape and sexual abuse and their friends and family.

Stop Violence Against Women - a project of The Advocates for Human Right. It is a forum for information, advocacy, and change in the promotion of women's human rights in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

DoSomething.org provides advice on how to help someone who is being abused.