Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Nearly 25 percent of American women have been physically or sexually abused by a spouse or partner at some point in their lives, according to studies. So, whether we are aware of it or not, it is likely that domestic violence has affected our lives or the life of someone we know. Domestic violence refers to a range of abusive behaviors that include physical, psychological, or sexual harm. There isn't one type of person who is more susceptible to becoming a victim of domestic violence. Violence occurs in families of many different backgrounds regardless of income, education, culture, or sexual preference. Although men are affected by domestic violence, the majority of victims are women and children. Surprisingly, pregnant women are at a higher risk of being abused, which can lead to health risks for the fetus as well as the mother. The elderly also are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. Roughly 37 percent of all women who seek care in hospital emergency rooms for violence-related injuries are injured by a current or former spouse or partner. Examples of physical abuse are hitting, shoving, and forcing someone to engage in sexual activity. Psychological abuse includes behavior patterns in which the abuser tries to control the victim with insults, intimidation, or punching walls. Some abusers isolate the victim by limiting access to the telephone, transportation, money, or friends. The harmful effects of domestic violence vary depending on individual circumstances. Physical injury may include bruising, broken bones, or traumatic brain injury. But it's important to know that abusive situations may have more than just physical effects on victims. For example, domestic violence has been associated with increased risk of chronic health problems including depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and sexually transmitted infections. Also, domestic violence impacts more than just the victims; it affects children who have witnessed abuse or violence. Children exposed to violence may suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as bed-wetting and nightmares. Moreover, these children are at a greater risk of developing conditions like asthma, headaches, and flu. So, what can we do to prevent domestic violence? The best approach to prevent abuse is to educate ourselves and our communities about domestic violence. It is important to share information about local shelters and services to support victims who want to leave an abusive situation. For information about safety when leaving an abusive situation, visit www.leavingabuse.com. For immediate help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE connects directly to a local shelter in your area. Other local resources include the Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line (866) 223-1111 or, in the Twin Cities area, United Way First Call for Help (651) 291-0211. Nancy C. Raymond, M.D., is professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine and Community Health and also is director of the Deborah E. Powell Center for Women's Health (wmhealth.umn.edu). This column is an educational service of the University of Minnesota. Advice presented should not take the place of an examination by a health care professional. For more health-related information, go to www.healthtalk.umn.edu.