The physical and mental health effects of domestic violence can have a devastating and long-term impact on victims. In a recent ABC News report on the long-term health impact from domestic abuse, author Leslie Morgan Steiner commented that she still deals with psychological damage, physical joint pain and some short-term memory loss more than twenty years after suffering horrific abuse from her now ex-husband. Leslie is not alone.
Results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) reports that men and women who experienced rape or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime were "more likely to report physical frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty with sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health, and poor mental health than men and women who did not experience these forms of violence."
The survey also reports that "women who have experienced these forms of violence were more likely to report having asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes than women who did not experience these form of violence."
Another alarming report was published in September 2013 by an interagency Federal Working Group, created by President Obama in March 2013, to explore the intersection of HIV/AIDs, violence against women and girls, and gender-related health disparities. The report states that "for women living with HIV/AIDs, violence is especially prevalent with over half of the women living with HIV experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV), which is considerably higher than the national prevalence among women overall (55% vs. 36%)."
Awareness and prevention of intimate partner abuse and violence is necessary to stop this cycle of domestic abuse. Increased National awareness and prevention of domestic abuse is improving each year. On September 30, 2013, President Obama declared October 2013 as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The presidential proclamation promotes peace in our own families, homes and communities and calls for our commitment to end domestic violence in every city, every town and every corner of America. This proclamation has strengthened advocates charge to bring an end to domestic violence.
Domestic violence among intimate partners is an epidemic and the perpetrators are like diseases. The National Domestic Violence Hotline National Report, based on hotline calls during the first half of 2013, reported that the hotline received nearly 120,000 calls or an average of 20,000 calls a month. Approximately 64% of the callers were victims or a survivor of abuse from an intimate partner. Additionally, 95% of the victims experienced emotional abuse and 70% physical abuse. Without prevention, this disease cannot be cured.
Similar to preventing many diseases and illnesses, the first step to preventing domestic abuse is education. The NISVS report states that prevention efforts should start early in the home by promoting healthy, respectful relationships in families by developing positive family dynamics and emotionally supportive environments. These environments help children adopt positive interactions with adults based on trust and respect instead of fear.
For current victims or survivors, the prevention efforts need to be addressed by the community and healthcare system. These women and men need coordinated services to ensure healing and prevent recurrence of victimization. NISVS suggests that one way to strengthen the response to survivors is to increase training of healthcare professionals. These professionals should be trained to recognize domestic abuse and work with organizations that can offer shelter, legal services, mental health care, career training and employment opportunities.
Another important form of response to domestic abuse is to hold the perpetrators accountable. Many times laws are not enforced adequately or consistently and perpetrators may become more violent after the victim reports the crimes against them. Proper training within the criminal justice system is necessary to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
CDC, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survery 2010 Summary Report
Interagency Federal Working Group Report, Addressing the Intersection of HIV/AIDs, Violence against Women and Girls, & Gender-Related Health Disparities, September 2013
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Report Based on Hotline Calls Documents in the First Half of Calendar Year 2013
Presidential Proclamation - National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2013