Female Victimization and Intimate Partner Violence after the May 12, 2008, Sichuan Earthquake

Article excerpt

This study investigates the impact of the earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008 in Sichuan, China on stressed families already experiencing domestic violence. We hypothesized that cumulative postdisaster stress would increase marital aggression and that the well-being of victims would deteriorate following the quake. A total of 186 women were recruited for this study. Results show that all types of family violence, including psychological aggression and physical violence between partners, increased after the earthquake. We provided preliminary evidence that psychological aggression was significantly associated with the detrimental effects on victims' mental and physical functioning. The findings support the need for violence assessment among victims of earthquakes, and we recommend that violence prevention be considered as part of the intervention during such natural disasters.

Keywords: trauma; earthquake; intimate partner violence; Chinese

On May 12, 2008, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northwestern part of Sichuan province in China, killing about 70,000 people and leaving more than 18,000 missing, 370,000 injured, and 4 million homeless. The area affected by the quake exceeded 440,442 km2, and it was felt as far as Beijing and Shanghai, which were 1,500 and 1,700 km away, respectively, from the epicenter. Unlike many other traumatic events, earthquakes usually happen with no warning. Large-scale natural disasters can leave their traces on the population for an entire generation, and their impact can be widespread, severe, and ongoing (Choul et al., 2004).

Research shows that earthquake exposure is associated with multidimensional impairment in the quality of life, including in both the physical and the psychological domains (Norris et al., 2002). Disaster victims often have more somatic complaints (Smith & Freedy, 2000), poorer sleep quality (Mellman, David, Kulick-Bell, Hebding, & Nolan, 1995), and more illnesses, sleep disruption, and physiological indicators of stress and immune functioning (Inoue-Sakurai, Maruyama, & Morimoto, 2000) than the norm. Additionally, deterioration of health is found most commonly in persons with preexisting physical illness (Chiu, Hu, Lue, Chen, & Hsieh, 2002). In addition to causing property damage and substantial injury and threat to life, earthquakes can also lead to serious psychological and mental sequelae among victims. Disaster victims are likely to be associated with an increased prevalence of psychiatric morbidity, for example, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and substance abuse (Chen et al., 2007; Choul et al., 2004; Hizli, Taskintuna, Isikli, Kilic, & Zileli, 2009; Lazaratou et al., 2008). Among the range of possible psychological problems, PTSD has been found to be the most prevalent type of psychiatric morbidity after a disaster (Acierno et al., 2007; Kumar et al., 2007).

Recent research shows the unique impact of an earthquake on powerless groups of people who lack strength or resources, or the authority or capacity to act, such as children, ethnic minorities, and women (Anastario, Shehab, & Lawry, 2009; Norris et al., 2002; Perilla, Norris, & Lavizzo, 2002). Children are highly vulnerable to postdisaster distress (Norris et al., 2002) and conflict within the family (Herrenkohl, Sousa, Tajima, Herrenkohl, & Moylan, 2008), owing to their lower education (Palmieri, Canetti-Nisim, Galea, Johnson, & Hobfoll, 2008) and limited coping skills and cognitive ability (Wang et al., 2009). Young people are also at greater risk of developing mental health problems, especially PTSD, compared with adults (Norris et al., 2002; Salmon & Bryant, 2002). Ethnic minorities such as Latinos and non-Hispanic Blacks are more adversely affected by natural disasters than the majority (Perilla et al.). African Americans are also more vulnerable to the effects of stress and change resulting from a disaster than their Anglo-American counterparts (Norris, Perilla, Ibañez, & Murphy, 2001), possibly because they lack access to social support or resources to cope with disaster and, thus, are at risk of developing PTSD after a trauma (Breslau et al. …