Monday, February 11, 2008

CDC Finds 24% of Women and 11% of Men Are Domestic Violence Victims in US

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released new information finding that one in four women (23.9%) and one in nine men (11.5%) in the US suffers physical or emotional violence at the hands of an intimate partner. This harms their long-term health, the CDC reports.

The new data come from the largest-ever US survey of intimate-partner violence -- a range of behaviors that includes physical violence, sexual violence, unwanted sex, emotional abuse, threats, and stalking. Perpetrators include spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and dates. CDC researchers asked adult participants in the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey if they would answer questions about intimate-partner violence. More than 70,000 Americans participated. (That is a LOT of people in a survey -- a really, really great scientific survey may have 5,000 people in it, so 70,000 means this is really an excellent representative sample).

Here are the results:

- 23.6% of women and 11.5% of men reported at least one lifetime episode of intimate-partner violence.
- In households with incomes under $15,000 per year, 35.5% of women and 20.7% of men suffered violence from an intimate partner.
- 43% of women and 26% of men in multiracial non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
- 39% of women and 18.6% of men in American Indian/Alaska Native households suffered partner violence.
- 26.8% of women and 15.5% of men in white non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
- 29.2% of women and 23.3% of men in black non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
- 20.5% of women and 15.5% of men in Hispanic households suffered partner violence.

"The majority of those who report violence -- and the burden is predominantly on women-- reported multiple forms. They experienced threats and attempts and assaults and unwanted sex," said Michele Black, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The CDC is also concerned about something else -- the link between domestic violence and long term health problems. The study found a number of outcomes related to intimate-partner violence, including current disability and activity limitations, asthma, stroke, arthritis, and, in women, heart disease.

The study author was quick to point out that survey data do not show whether partner violence caused these health problems. But they note that previous studies have found high stress levels in people with abusive spouses -- and that high stress levels are linked to chronic health problems. Stress isn't the only health issue for victims of domestic violence. A perpetrator limiting access to healthcare may also be an issue. Or an abused person may feel depressed or disempowered, making it hard for them to get to the help they need or to adhere to medications.

Because of the link to health problems, the CDC recommends that doctors ask patients about intimate-partner violence. That may be harder to do than it would seem.

That is a lot like the workplace -- it is hard to address domestic violence as a possible reason for changes in employee performance/behavior or to think of domestic violence as a workplace safety issue because we are not sure about the resources and are afraid to ask the question. But as the CDC report indicates related to healthcare, "Those asked about intimate-partner violence do respond very well to being asked."

For resources and help at the workplace go to

The CDC's ultimate goal is to prevent intimate-partner violence in the first place. I agree!

The CDC report appears in the Feb. 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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