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Domestic Violence Harms Long-Term Health of Victims

Both women, men suffer more chronic illnesses, practice more risky behaviors

THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Women and men who are victims of intimate partner violence are also more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions and participate in risky behaviors, U.S. health officials report.

Every year in the United States, such violence accounts for some 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries among women, and almost 600,000 injuries among men, according to new statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.

"One in four women and one of seven men experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime," said CDC epidemiologist Michele Black. "Those who experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime were also more likely to report a range of adverse health conditions and health risk behaviors."

In the study, Black's team gathered data on 70,156 men and women who participated in the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. These individuals completed the section of the survey on intimate partner violence. Responses came from people in 16 states and two territories.

The results of the survey are published in the Feb. 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

The researchers found that the prevalence of intimate partner violence was significantly higher among women than men. In addition, it was more common among multiracial, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska native women, and among women with low incomes.

However, intimate partner violence does appear to be on the decline overall, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures. In 1993, the rate of intimate partner violence was 9.8 per 1,000 women and 1.6 per 1,000 men. In 2005, both rates dropped, to 3.6 per 1,000 women and 0.9 per 1, 000 men.

The CDC report found that women who suffered from intimate partner violence were significantly more likely to have chronic health conditions and engage in risky behaviors. These chronic conditions did not, however, include diabetes, high blood pressure or being overweight.

But chronic illness associated with intimate partner violence among women did include high cholesterol and increased risk for HIV infection, according to the report.

Men who experienced intimate partner violence were more likely to use canes, crutches and wheelchairs and suffer from arthritis, asthma and stroke. In addition, these men have risk factors for HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases. They were also likely to smoke and drink heavily, the researchers found.

"This underscores the importance of intimate partner violence as a public health issue," Black said. "Health-care providers have the opportunity to assist survivors of intimate partner violence and address the health-related needs of these individuals and reduce their subsequent risks for negative affects."

One expert agreed with the findings but was concerned that lumping violence against men in with violence against women clouds the true picture of domestic violence.

"Beyond concerns for these data representing the true state of [intimate partner violence] and associated health concerns, this is certainly an important study," said Jay G. Silverman, director of Violence Against Women Prevention at Harvard University School of Public Health.

What is a critical in examining these data is the notion of intimate partner violence as a public health issue, Silverman said. "Although women and girls suffer far higher rates of abuse, are far more likely to be injured, and far more likely to be killed by male partners than are men reporting abuse from women, there is a push from some professional quarters to equate these experiences and remove considerations of gender," he noted.

In many countries, data indicate that violence from husbands and other male partners exacts a terrible toll on the health of women and children, and is a major factor in the increasing "feminization" of the HIV epidemic across the United States, Africa and Asia, Silverman said.

"Hopefully, we as a country can overcome this desire to remove gender from our public health approach and join the rest of the world in focusing on the major threats posed by violence against women and girls from their male partners," Silverman said.

More information

For more on domestic violence, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

SOURCES: Michele Black, Ph.D., epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Jay G. Silverman, Ph.D., assistant professor, society and human development and health, and director, Violence Against Women Prevention, Harvard University School of Public Health, Boston; Feb. 8, 2008, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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