Domestic abuse is rarely an isolated incidence. It typically occurs within the larger context of ongoing intimate partner violence — and even if that abusive relationship eventually ends, domestic violence can still have lasting effects decades later. Chronic health problems often plague victims for the rest of their lives.
According to a recent survey conducted by More Magazine and the Verizon Foundation, domestic violence victims are significantly more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition. Among the 1,000 women surveyed, more than 80 percent of participants who had been subject to domestic abuse had an ongoing health issue, compared to just 62 percent of the participants who hadn’t experienced this type of intimate partner violence. Domestic abuse survivors reported higher than average rates of depression, diabetes, asthma, and digestive disease. And they also had elevated rates of impaired brain tissue and immune system dysfunction.
“We now know from science that exposure to violence leads to significant poor health outcomes across the life spectrum,” Kristin Schubert, the director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, told ABC News. “When you make this connection and understand the health, economic and social repercussions of intimate partner violence, it becomes clear that this is a problem that should concern everyone.”
Worldwide, intimate partner violence is the leading cause of women’s non-fatal injuries. Bruises and bone fractures are some of the most common ways that domestic abuse manifests itself, but the link between longer-term health issues isn’t as well known. Most of the participants in this new study didn’t realize their health problems may have stemmed from their abuse, and were more likely to blame their chronic issues on other things, like smoking or drinking.
Similarly, 75 percent of the women who participated in the survey said their doctors never asked them about domestic abuse during a routine exam. One of the issues with sexual assault is that it’s not widely-discussed, so women and their doctors don’t always realize the red flags.
That will hopefully begin to change under Obamacare. Thanks to the health reform law, regular domestic violence screenings are now covered free of charge, since they’re considered to be an essential preventative health service. The U.S. Preventative Task Force now recommends that doctors screen all women between the ages of 14 and 46 for intimate partner violence, which could encourage more medical professionals to open these conversations with their patients.
Domestic violence has other long-term effects, too. Another recent study confirmed that domestic abuse is passed down through generations — unsurprisingly, when children are exposed to abusive relationships, they’re more likely to have unhealthy relationships of their own. And research into teen dating violence has found that early exposure to domestic abuse often leads to mental health issues as an adult.