BACKGROUND: Intimate partner violence (IPV) against women is an important, yet often neglected public health issue. The existence of gender norms imbalance expressed by men's and women's attitudes in relation to power and decision-making in intimate relationships may influence the magnitude of IPV. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence and potential risk factors of physical, sexual and psychological IPV in young men and women in Rwanda. METHODS: This population-based, cross-sectional study included a representative sample of men and women from the Southern Province of Rwanda. Face-to-face interviews were performed using the World Health Organization (WHO) questionnaire for violence exposure to estimate past year and earlier in life IPV occurrence. Risk factor patterns were analyzed by use of bi- and multivariate logistic regression. RESULTS: Women were, to a considerably higher extent, exposed to physical, sexual and psychological IPV than men. Of the women, 18.8% (n = 78) reported physical abuse in the past year, compared to 4.3% (n = 18) of men. The corresponding figures for women and men for sexual abuse were 17.4% (n = 71) and 1.5% (n = 6), respectively, and for psychological abuse, the corresponding figures were 21.4% (n = 92) and 7.3% (n = 32). Findings illustrate that violence against women was recurrent, as the highest frequency (>3 times) dominated in women for the various acts of all forms of violence. Identified risk factors for women's exposure to physical violence were being low educated, having poor social support, being poor and having many children. For men exposed to physical violence, no statistically significant risk factor was identified. CONCLUSIONS: In this setting, IPV exposure was more common in women than men in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Promotion of gender equality at the individual level is needed to make a positive difference in a relatively short term perspective. Men's lower reporting of IPV confirms women's subordinate position, but men's denial of incidents could also explain the gender role pattern.