By the Numbers—A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness

MORE partnered with the Verizon Foundation on a nationwide survey. This is what we found

by Alexis Jetter
by the numbers image
Photograph: Photographed by Julia Fullerton-Batten

To better understand the connection between domestic violence and chronic illness, More partnered with the Verizon Foundation on a nationwide survey. The More/Verizon Foundation Study was conducted from August 7 to August 12, 2013, by the market research organization GfK, among a nationally representative sample of 1,005 women over age 21. Our most important findings:

If it’s not you, it’s your sister, friend, coworker.
An alarming 44 percent of women said they have experienced abusive behavior from a partner. The categories break down like this: emotional abuse (38 percent of respondents), physical abuse (25 percent), sexual abuse (18 percent) and economic abuse (16 percent). Specific examples include shoving (21 percent), intimidation by looks, actions or gestures (21 percent), hitting (17 percent), slapping (16 percent), choking (11 percent), withholding access to money (10 percent) and being forced to have sex (10 percent).

Chronic conditions are epidemic.
Seventy percent of respondents reported having a chronic condition, including lower back pain (26 percent), high blood pressure (26 percent), migraines and chronic headaches (24 percent) or difficulty sleeping (23 percent).

Abused women are more likely to suffer from chronic illness.
Eighty-one percent of women who said they have experienced abuse have a chronic illness versus 62 percent of women who said they have never experienced abuse.

Abused women suffer from multiple chronic conditions.
Women who said they have experienced abuse have more chronic health conditions (2.7 conditions per person) than women who said they haven’t (1.7 conditions per person).

We think it’s important to be asked about abuse.
Ninety-two percent of respondents said it is very or somewhat important for doctors and nurses to ask about DV during an exam. Only 2 percent said it is not at all important.

But doctors and nurses are not asking.
Only 24 percent of respondents said they have ever been asked during an exam if they have experienced abusive behaviors. Also not asking are dentists and dental hygienists, who are in a unique position to see soft-tissue injuries inside a woman’s mouth after she’s been hit in the face or choked (only 3 percent of respondents said a dental professional has ever asked them about abuse).

It doesn’t matter who you are.
You might think that women who have been abused would be more likely to be asked about DV by their doctors. Not so. In fact, the incidence is very similar to that in the general population: Only 27 percent of women who have experienced abuse have been screened for it.

Why a communications company got involved: The Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon, has a deep commitment to preventing domestic violence and assisting survivors, in part because of the lifelong personal passion of its president, Rose Stuckey Kirk. When Kirk’s sister was 29, she died of a chronic health condition exacerbated by the abuse she endured from someone close to her. “I decided at 15 that I would have an impact, that I was never going to allow myself to be in that situation,” says Kirk. “And that I would help others.” Today Kirk spearheads the foundation’s extensive efforts to prevent domestic violence, including funding training for doctors and nurses and sponsoring a program to distribute free cell phones to survivors who are affiliated with participating DV agencies (visit to learn how to donate a phone).

Previous: Domestic Violence: A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness

See also: How Domestic Violence Makes Children Ill

First published in the November 2013 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


What an amazing article. There are just a couple of points I would like to add --> the woman from Verizon saying how it happened to a relative and she vowed it would never happen to her? Her statement shows an incredible lack of understanding/awareness of the issue of domestic violence. Nobody, and I mean nobody gets married thinking oh boy, maybe he will hit me one day. Domestic violence knows no socio-economic boundaries and her elitist attitude is a bit offensive. Yes, it could have happened to her, and it wasn't up to her whether or not it did. She should be thankful it hasn't happened to her but to claim that power puts all of us who did get abused in a heap of poor souls who should have known better. Nothing could be further from the truth, since abusers typically choose strong, independent, attractive women and then they methodically strip away their defenses, first emotionally, then physically.
My next concern is while I applaud the efforts and the findings, and agree completely, I would like to know how many of the women who are experiencing symptoms, whether physical or somatic, are still being abused. I don't mean physically abused, I understand they have escaped the violence, but how many of us are faced with the abuser twenty years later as he creeps back into our lives through our adult children and grandchildren? The abuse is still happening, the unpaid bills that he laughs off, the slams and insults as he tells the children lies about why he abandoned them and especially his minimization of the abuse he inflicted on our children and on us. It's called "ambient abuse" and it goes on long after the physical abuse has stopped. As he laughs and jokes and poses for the family pictures, and as our children seem to beg for any attention from their abusive fathers, no wonder we are dealing with headaches and stomach aches.
I also want to say that we need to lobby for more sever punishment and accountability than a five hundred dollar fine when a man is convicted of abusing his wife and children. If he does the same crimes to a stranger he would go to prison for life, or for 20 or 30 years, but since he abuses his wife and children he gets just a five hundred dollar fine? We need to work together to change those laws so that the abusers will be held accountable for their actions and women and children can know they're worth more than five-hundred dollars.
Overall, the article was very well written and much appreciated! Thank you.

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