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 Mon, 2013-12-02 19:30

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