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Health & Sex

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Intimate Violence Hurts Health

CDC: 1 in 4 Women, 1 in 9 Men Suffer Intimate-Partner Violence
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 7, 2008 -- In America, one in four women and one in nine men suffers physical or emotional violence at the hands of an intimate partner. This harms their long-term health, the CDC reports.

The new data come from the largest-ever survey of intimate-partner violence -- a range of behaviors that includes physical violence, sexual violence, unwanted sex, emotional abuse, threats, and stalking. Perpetrators include spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and dates.

CDC researchers asked adult participants in the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey if they would answer questions about intimate-partner violence. More than 70,000 Americans -- just over half those asked -- agreed.

The results:

  • 23.6% of women and 11.5% of men reported at least one lifetime episode of intimate-partner violence.
  • In households with incomes under $15,000 per year, 35.5% of women and 20.7% of men suffered violence from an intimate partner.
  • 43% of women and 26% of men in multiracial non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
  • 39% of women and 18.6% of men in American Indian/Alaska Native households suffered partner violence.
  • 26.8% of women and 15.5% of men in white non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
  • 29.2% of women and 23.3% of men in black non-Hispanic households suffered partner violence.
  • 20.5% of women and 15.5% of men in Hispanic households suffered partner violence.

"The majority of those who report violence -- and the burden is predominantly on women -- reported multiple forms. They experienced threats and attempts and assaults and unwanted sex," Michele Black, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, tells WebMD.

Shocking as these numbers seem, they do not represent an upward trend. A decade ago, the last large survey of partner violence came up with similar rates, Black says. Other data bear this out, says Peter Sherman, MD, director of the residency program in social pediatrics at New York's Montefiore Medical Center.

"If anything, the rates for domestic violence have been decreasing in the past years," Sherman tells WebMD. "Laws have been changed to make it easier to get a response from police, and in many areas there are more resources ranging from domestic violence services to hotlines and shelters."

So why are we surprised by how common domestic violence is? Sherman says it's because the size of the problem is far out of proportion to our response.

"If this were an infectious disease, we would have a treatment center in every neighborhood," Sherman says. "There is a huge disconnect between the prevalence of domestic violence and what is done in the health system."

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