Intimate Partner Violence's Effects on Women's Health May Be Long-Lasting

Article excerpt

Physical and sexual intimate partner violence may have lasting effects on a woman's health, according to a recent multicountry study by the World Health Organization. (1) Compared with women who had never been abused, those who had suffered intimate partner violence had 60% greater odds of being in poor or very poor health, and about twice the odds of having had various health problems, such as memory loss and difficulty walking, in the past four weeks.

Unlike previous research on the health effects of intimate partner violence, which has mostly focused on small clinical samples of women in developed countries, the new analysis used a population-based sample of 19,568 ever-partnered women aged 15-49 at 15 sites in 10 countries. In most of the countries, the study was conducted in a rural province (Ethiopia), a large city (Japan, Namibia, Serbia and Montenegro) or both (Bangladesh, Brazil, Peru, Thailand and Tanzania); in Samoa, the whole country was sampled. Between 2000 and 2003, the researchers interviewed women about their health and their experience with physical and sexual intimate partner violence. Women were asked to rate their health as either excellent, good, fair, poor or very poor, and to note whether in the past month they had had various physical symptoms, such as memory loss or difficulties with daily activities, and symptoms of emotional distress, such as crying and inability to enjoy life. In addition, women were asked if they had ever attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts. The researchers assessed women's experiences of physical and sexual violence in the past 12 months and in their lifetime; they used a composite variable that encompassed both physical and sexual abuse because a previous analysis had shown that 20-50% of women had suffered both kinds of abuse, making it difficult for the investigators to determine the effects of either type alone. The investigators conducted regression analyses to examine the relationship between abuse and health outcomes, adjusting for women's location, age, marital status and level of education.

Across sites, 15-71% of women reported that a current or former partner had abused them physically, sexually, or both during their lifetime. In every country but Samoa, women who had been abused were more likely than those who had not to report being in poor or very poor health (odds ratio, 1.6). Moreover, the odds of having had pain (1.6), difficulty walking (1.6), memory loss (1.8), dizziness (1.7), vaginal discharge (1.8) or difficulties with daily activities (1. …