Study Examines How Intimate Partner Violence Affects Health

By Ines Domenech del Rio, Ph.D., MD, Forensic Medical Doctor and Coordinator at the Gender-based Violence Comprehensive Forensic Assessment Unit of Legal Medicine Institute of Malaga

In short, what is the study about?

The study seeks to investigate the association between current and previous intimate partner violence (IPV) and current health status. IPV is a complex phenomenon, and all types of IPV, as well as their timing, should be considered when assessing the relation between IPV and women’s health status. We wanted to clarify the effects of various IPV categories and their timing (past or current) on women’s health, utilizing a large population-based sample.

Although research has begun to measure the effects of psychological abuse on a range of outcomes, most studies have studied psychological abuse as a discrete entity without considering its various dimensions. Our study analyzed different categories of psychological violence to measure their effects on women’s health. Since we had a large nationally representative sample of 10,171 women residing in Spain and aged 16 and over, we could deep into more details than previous studies.

We created three mutually exclusive categories. The first group included respondents ever experiencing physical or sexual violence with or without emotional abuse, economic abuse, or controlling behavior. The second group included women ever experiencing emotional or economic abuse but not physical or sexual violence. The third group included women ever experiencing controlling behavior alone without physical, sexual, emotional, or economic violence.

What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?

Our analysis indicates that women experiencing any type of past or current IPV are more likely to report a greater prevalence of physical and mental symptoms related to poor health than women without an IPV history. Although a clear improvement in health status was observed among those women who reported IPV in the past compared with women who had experienced IPV within the 12 months prior to the interviews, strong, lasting effects on health were identified in all women who reported past physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse.

Current physical or sexual violence was associated with the greatest likelihood of reporting various symptoms, followed by current emotional or economic abuse and past physical or sexual violence. Current controlling behavior by itself significantly increased the likelihood of reporting various health outcomes, whereas previous controlling behavior appeared, from all the studied categories, to have less effect on present health.

Thus, our primary contribution is that controlling behavior appeared to be the only category of violence that, although having negative effects on women’s health while being experienced, did not leave significant lasting effects once that type of violence was over.

How are these findings important in practice?

This finding has important implications for intervention because controlling behavior without other categories of associated violence often is the first expression of a violent relationship. If violence could be identified at this early stage, long-term effects on women’s health could be minimized.

Our results reveal that anxiety and depression are strongly correlated with physical or sexual violence. However, to detect emotional or economic violence that does not co-occur with physical or sexual violence or controlling behavior that does not co-occur with other types of violence, professionals should focus on women who manifest other symptoms of discomfort such as mood swings, crying without reason, irritability, insomnia, or permanent fatigue.

Link to the primary paper

Domenech del Rio, I. and Sirvent Garcia del Valle, E. (2017). The Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence on Health: A Further Disaggregation of Psychological Violence—Evidence From Spain. Violence Against Women, 23(14), 1771-1789. Doi: 10.1177/1077801216671220

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Latest update: January 24, 2018
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