Domestic Violence is a Serious Healthcare Issue

Intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs between two people in a close relationship. The term “intimate partner” includes current and former spouses and dating partners. IPV exists along a continuum from a single episode of violence to ongoing battering.

IPV includes four types of behavior:

• Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking or using another type of physical force.

• Sexual violence is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.

• Threats of physical or sexual violence include the use of words, gestures, weapons or other means to communi­cate the intent to cause harm.

• Emotional abuse is threatening a partner or his or her possessions or loved ones, or harming a partner’s sense of self-worth. Examples are stalking, name-calling, in­timidation or not letting a partner see friends and family.

Often, IPV starts with emotional abuse; but this behavior can progress to physical or sexual assault. Several types of IPV may occur together.

Why is IPV a public health problem?

IPV can affect health in many ways. The longer the violence goes on, the more serious the effects. Many victims suffer physical injuries. Some are minor like cuts, scratches, bruises, and welts. Others are more serious and can cause death or disabilities. These include broken bones, internal bleeding and head trauma.

Not all injuries are physical. IPV can also cause emotional harm. Victims may have trauma symptoms. Victims often have low self-esteem. They may have a hard time trust­ing others and being in relationships. The anger and stress that victims feel may lead to eating disorders and depression. Some victims even think about or commit suicide.

IPV is linked to harmful health behaviors as well. Victims may try to cope with their trauma in unhealthy ways. This includes smoking, drinking, taking drugs or having risky sex.

• On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States–more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

• Nearly three in 10 women and one in 10 men in the US have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning.

• IPV resulted in 2,340 deaths in 2007—accounting for 14 percent of all homicides. Of these deaths, 70 percent were fe­males and 30 percent were males.

• The medical care, mental health services and lost productivity (e.g., time away from work) cost of IPV was an estimated $5.8 billion in 1995. Updated to 2003 dollars, that’s more than $8.3 billion.

These numbers underestimate the problem. Many victims do not report IPV to police, friends or family. Victims may think others will not believe them or that the police cannot help.

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