State, County Drop in Health Rankings Fall Tied to Domestic Violence, Homelessness

By Dreher, Arielle | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 17, 2019 | Go to article overview

State, County Drop in Health Rankings Fall Tied to Domestic Violence, Homelessness


Dreher, Arielle, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Washington state fell six spots in the 2019 America's Health Rankings for Women and Children report this year, a significant drop for a state ranked 11th last year.

The reason? Not traditional health care measures like health provider visits, insurance coverage or immunizations. Instead, the fall can be linked to social determinants of health, including intimate partner violence, homelessness, lack of supportive neighborhoods and teen suicide, according to Dr. Janice Huckaby, one of the report researchers.

Washington ranked 42nd of 50 states for intimate partner violence and 43rd for homeless family households.

"It's probably an opportunity for political and community leaders to say, 'How can we better support families or individuals, whether that's more affordable housing or in our schools or substance use disorder treatment or telehealth counseling or things like that that would be unique to the communities?' " Huckaby said.

The report's findings dovetail with another recent report that looked specifically at women and children in Spokane County.

"Changing Our Forecast: State of Women and Children" found similar public health challenges, from birth to adulthood, that affect both women and children locally. One of those challenges is domestic and intimate partner violence.

Spokane County has a higher rate of domestic violence offenses than the state average, with 10.4 offenses per 1,000 residents reported in 2016, compared to a state average of 7.4. The Spokane Regional Health District estimates that one in three women in the county have experienced domestic violence. Family violence was identified as the No. 1 issue in a separate, recent community needs assessment.

The local report was timely, said Heather Hamlin, executive director of the Women Helping Women Fund, which produced the report with the health district in May.

"This is the first time a report like this has been done in Spokane," she said. "We're committed to updating a dashboard for three years."

The Spokane Regional Health District estimates there are 3,900 confirmed victims of domestic violence each year in the county with many more cases unconfirmed.

Why exactly Spokane has such high rates of domestic violence is not clear, but reported offenses to law enforcement agencies have increased in recent years.

From 2017 to 2018, domestic violence related offenses in Spokane County increased from 7,191 to 7,866, and 70% of the victims were women, a Spokesman-Review analysis of data from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs shows.

Research shows that domestic and intimate partner violence, whether physical or verbal, has a direct impact on survivors' and witnesses' mental and physical health.

Law enforcement agencies document injuries from domestic violence offenses in the WASPC annual report. In 2018, law enforcement agencies in Spokane County reported 3,900 domestic violence-related aggravated and simple assaults. There were five murders, 115 rapes and 247 serious injuries reported in the county related to domestic violence. Nationally, more than half of homicides are intimate partner violence-related, a 2017 CDC analysis shows.

Oftentimes survivors will not report physical injuries, however, so these numbers are likely an understated look at the impact of physical violence in the community.

"For a lot of people there are health difficulties long-term because the majority of people who have violence in the home ... do not have their wounds tended," said Deborah Svoboda, social work researcher and professor at Eastern Washington University.

The Spokane Regional Health District estimates domestic violence accounts for $6.7 million in hospital charges each year.

Intimate partner and domestic violence often lead to trauma for survivors, which can develop into lasting psychological health issues, research shows.

Almost two decades ago, researchers concluded women experiencing verbal or physical abuse are more likely to report both poor physical and mental health. …

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