Thursday, May 18, 2006

44% of Women in Survey Report Intimate Partner Abuse

A study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examines the results of a survey conducted in Washington State/Northern Idaho that asked 3,429 adult women about their lifetime experience of intimate partner violence. English-speaking women aged 18 to 64 who had attended a general health clinic for 3 years or more were surveyed via telephone. According to the piece, "Intimate partner violence was defined as physical, sexual, or psychological violence between adults who were present and/or past sexual/intimate partners in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. Intimate partners were defined as current or former spouses, nonmarital partners, or dating partners in relationships longer than 1 week. Partnerships could include relationships without sexual involvement."

Women were asked about numerous violence-related criteria, and among the findings were:
  • The women who responded were unusual in that they don't fit the "common knowledge" profile of domestic violence victims. 87.5% had at least some college education, 80.7% were employed, 35.2% had a household income >$75,000, and 82.6% were white. People often think of domestic violence as more frequently affecting more vulnerable populations than those surveyed for this study. Translation: violence can affect all kinds of women
  • 66.2% had been neither physically or sexually abused as a child, and 81.7% had not witnessed intimate partner violence as a child (it is sometime assumed that those experiencing domestic violence are continuing a pattern established in childhood)
  • In the last 12 months, 5.8% of women had experienced physical abuse, forced sex, unwanted sexual contact, threats/anger, and/or controlling behavior. iIn the past 5 years, 11.7% had experienced one of these things. In their adult lifetimes, 44% of respondents had experienced one of these forms of abuse.

    I was a little skeptical about the threats/anger and controlling behavior categories, because the paper doesn't put a fine definition on them, and these seem more subjective than being hit or raped (not to suggest they don't have an impact on victims). I would have liked to see the entire survey alongside the article, including how these questions were framed. Regardless, threats/controlling was not the only form of abuse reported by most women - 92.3% experienced threats/anger along with another form of abuse, as did 82.3% of those reporting controlling behavior.

    Now the more encouraging news:
  • 79+% of women reported only 1 abusive partner for each category of abuse
  • Years encompassed by abuse and number of occurrences of abuse also trended toward the low end.
    These suggest that perhaps while more women than expected are experiencing abuse in a lifetime, in many cases it is not chronic abuse (i.e., many women are getting out of bad situations).

    The study provides more detailed breakdowns of demographic, incidence, and abuse data in table form.

    Nice safety feature: at the beginning of the phone survey, women were instructed to say "I don't want vinyl siding" and hang up if they felt in danger from being overheard.

  • Press release from the Center for Health Studies, which conducted the study
  • CNN/Reuters coverage
  • Feministing says, "I wish I could say I am suprised by these stats, but it is still difficult to hear and see. The researchers say this is potentially a nation-wide epidemic. We have been saying that for years."

    Previous related posts:
    Women's Health News: Support the Relief Fund for Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Victims
    Women's Health News: Sexual Abuse: Thoughts and Resources

    Additional Resources:
    Checklist for Leaving an Abuser
    Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence

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