Gender and domestic violence: health effects of intimate partner violence

This week’s article series has shown that women are statistically more likely to be the victims of violence. We have explored the different forms that violence can take. But what about the effects that such violence could have on the health and wellbeing of victims?

Our article shared today is a research report published this year by ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) that explores the health impacts of intimate partner violence on Australian women. The study is comprehensive, and the many health impacts it covers can be found within the 52 page document accessible through the ANROWS website.

Briefly, the highlights of the research show that 1 in 4 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since age 15. This figure increases to 1 in 3 when you include emotional abuse by an intimate partner.

The research also explores what it calls the disease burden suffered by Australian women as a result of this intimate partner violence. Essentially, the disease burden is calculated by the number of years of ill health that women experience as a result of diseases (non-fatal burden), and the number of years lost by women who die earlier than they would have without these diseases (fatal burden). Using this data, the research shows that 5.1% of Australian women’s ill health happens at least partly because of intimate partner violence. The impact of intimate partner violence on women’s ill health, indeed, is higher than things like alcohol and tobacco use, illicit drug use, and workplace hazards.

If you think about it, this means that if we address intimate partner violence, we can make women (and children that might also be experiencing violence) live longer and healthier lives.

Women who have a disability, or who have a different cultural or linguistic background, are more likely to experience violence. Also, whereas 1 in 4 non-Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since age 15, for Indigenous women this figure is much higher at 3 in 5. Similarly, intimate partner violence contributes more to Indigenous women’s disease burden – the study shows 10.9% of Indigenous women’s ill health is owing to intimate partner violence.

The research therefore suggests intimate partner violence contributes more than any other risk factor to the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. So, addressing intimate partner violence will help to close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

There are many opportunities to reduce this man-made disease burden suffered by Australian women. The research suggests that one of the most significant root causes is gender inequality. Therefore, ANROWS argues tackling intimate partner violence effectively should involve engaging men and boys in pro-social ways, addressing problematic aspects of masculinity and relationships between genders. Engaging men and boys in these ways will not antagonise them, but will encourage everyone to work together to address key issues causing this disease burden.

If intimate partner violence can have such a huge impact on the health of Australian women, don’t we all have a part to play in breaking down the gender inequalities that research shows leads to this violence?

Webster, K 2016, A preventable burden: Measuring and addressing the prevalence and health impacts of intimate partner violence in Australian women, ANROWS Compass, viewed 4 November 2016, http://anrows.org.au/publications/compass/preventable-burden-measuring-and-addressing-the-prevalence-and-health-impacts