The toll of domestic abuse Public health issue: Study finds link between domestic violence and health problems.

November 30, 1995

"WIFE-BEATING" AND other forms of violence against women were once regarded as routine in many cultures. But that has begun to change. American women are luckier than most in this regard, though this country still has a long way to go.

A survey of women visiting primary care physicians at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center -- the largest study of its kind so far -- found such a strong link between continuing domestic abuse and a range of debilitating physical and psychological symptoms that researchers there have created a model for other physicians to use in identifying possible victims. That is important, since victims of abuse are not usually eager to reveal the source of injuries or discuss the fears behind psychological problems that may be affecting their health.

The study, which included 1,952 women who visited primary care physicians at Bayview during several months in 1993, uncovered a surprisingly high rate of abuse.

Although only 5 percent of these women said they had experienced domestic abuse within the previous year, 21 percent admitted to having been abused as an adult, and 33 percent said they had experienced abuse as either an adult or a child. About 100 of the women were currently experiencing violence at home, and researchers determined that half of those cases would qualify as "high-severity" -- threatened or hurt with a weapon, burned, choked, or sustaining broken bones or other serious injuries. It should come as no surprise that the abused women reported more health problems, more psychological problems and lower self-esteem.

Domestic battering is not only a moral issue. It has economic ramifications, too: higher health care costs and lower productivity. The Hopkins study does a public service by helping document the prevalence of this problem -- and by helping physicians become more aware of its long-term toll on physical health.

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