One in six women who visit orthopedic fracture clinics have been recent victims of physical, emotional, or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner, according to the largest multinational study on the topic to date. And one in 50 women who participated in the study were visiting the clinic specifically because of injuries that had just resulted from domestic abuse.
Researchers interviewed nearly 3,000 women at 12 orthopedic fracture clinics in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, and India. They found high rates of intimate partner violence (IPV), even among the women who weren’t seeking treatment for an injury that had recently stemmed from domestic violence. When researchers didn’t limit their parameters to people who had experienced intimate partner violence within the past year, one in three women reported having been abused at some point in their lives.
Worldwide, intimate partner violence is the leading cause of women’s non-fatal injuries. The researchers point out that so many domestic abuse victims are seeing out orthopedic surgeons because musculoskeletal injuries are the second most common type of injury resulting from domestic violence — which means that fracture clinics could be a good place to connect those women with some of the resources they need.
“The unexpectedly high rate of IPV in orthopedics suggests that injury clinics are the ideal location for identification and support programs for victims of severe abuse who may be at increased risk of further injury and homicide,” Sheila Sprague, the orthopedic research program manager at McMaster University and one of the co-leaders of the study, explained.
Nearly three-quarters of the women who participated in the study said they believe health care providers should ask all of their female patients about intimate partner violence, and about two-thirds agreed that orthopedic surgeons are in a particularly good position to screen for domestic abuse. But that’s not currently happening within the medical community. Of the women who said they were visiting a fracture clinic to treat an injury caused by very recent intimate partner violence, just 14 percent had ever been asked about the abuse by a health care professional.
Obamacare seeks to take some steps to change this. New guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force call for regular domestic abuse screenings for female patients between the ages of 14 and 46. Since Obamacare requires insurers to cover all of the preventative services that the task force recommends, domestic abuse screening and counseling will be free for Americans — and more medical professionals may get in the habit of providing it.
But there are even more policy steps that the U.S. could take to help protect victims of domestic violence. The vast majority of states still don’t have any workplace protections for victims of domestic abuse, so they’re allowed to be fired from their jobs if their abusers are deemed to be a safety hazard to their employers. And the sequester’s deep across-the-board cuts have left many of the country’s domestic violence support programs stretched much too thin. And loopholes in federal law still allow many domestic abusers to get their hands on guns, even though abusers who have access to a firearm are over seven times more likely to kill their partners.