Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles exploring intimate partner violence. On Oct. 19, we will address the challenges of leaving an abusive relationship.
As we near the midpoint of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the statistics for intimate partner violence are haunting.
President Barack Obama recently noted that about three women die each day in the United States at the hands of domestic violence. The White House also launched a campaign on dating violence to attempt to help bring awareness to the issue and reduce violence against women. The tagline this year is “1 is 2 Many,” and the focus is on women ages 16-24—the age group most likely to be affected by sexual assault and dating violence, according to statistics. One in 10 female teens will be abused by a person she is dating, and one in five young women will be a sexual assault victim while attending college.
Despite awareness and prevention efforts for intimate partner violence, about one in four women have been subjected to severe physical violence by a significant other, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows that, statistically, women are victims of intimate partner violence more often than men. However, about one in seven men report suffering severe physical violence from a partner.
For most domestic violence victims, the abuse doesn’t stop with bruising or bleeding. Many victims also experience mental health issues, such as symptoms of posttraumatic stress, headaches, and sleep difficulties, according to the CDC survey.
Experts share more about the link between mental health and domestic violence:
- Lynn Fairweather, author of Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding and Escaping Abusive Relationships, is a former abuse victim. She now advises professionals at her training firm, Presage Consulting & Training, on how to assist with domestic violence cases that are high-risk. She said by e-mail that women who are victims of intimate partner violence, including acts of rape and stalking, are more likely than other women to experience mental health issues. The more violence women are exposed to, the greater the likelihood of mental health problems. “Common mental health issues experienced by victims of domestic violence include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and posttraumatic stress,” Fairweather said. “These problems manifest in symptoms such as flashbacks, hypervigilance, a high startle response, nightmares, insomnia, substance abuse, and self-harm or suicidal behaviors.”
- Adwoa Akhu, a clinical psychologist in New York, said in an e-mail that domestic violence victims might also feel guilt and experience low energy and persistent crying, as well as fear, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.
- Gary Direnfeld, a social worker, said in an e-mail that the cultural focus generally is on the physical aspects of domestic violence, while the longer-term emotional and psychological effects are sidebars. He cited personality disorders along with depression and anxiety as possible effects, and said depression often is associated with feelings of being imprisoned in a hopeless situation, an environment in which abusers make them feel worthless and unworthy. “Anxiety is the outcome of spending years walking on eggshells, never knowing if you will set off the behavior of the abuser,” Direnfeld said. “The abused worries about all aspects of her life and how it relates to keeping a sense of calm in the home.” When victims of abuse attempt to leave a relationship, they might worry about a potential increase in violent behavior if caught by the perpetrator. “Personality disorders result from the distorted thinking that crystallizes in the abused as she accepts the abuser’s view of the world and is made to think that her views on family life are not normal as compared to the abuser,” Direnfeld said.
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