Victims of domestic violence develop long-term physical and mental health problems, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, analysed data from 16,761 women who took part in a study called Women’s Health Australia over the course of 16 years. The participants were from three different age groups: those born between 1921 and 1926, 1946-51 and 1973-78. Each woman was surveyed throughout their lives about their health and relationships.
They were asked if they had experienced violence at the hands of their romantic partners. At the start of the study eight per cent of the youngest age group said they had, as had 12 per cent of those born between 1946 and 1951. At the end of the 16-year study, these numbers had grown to 26 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. The eldest age group was only asked this question at the beginning of the survey as researchers believed they would be unlikely to find new relationships in that time. Five per cent of those women reported experiencing domestic violence.
When these figures were compared to the women’s overall health, the results were “striking”. Those who had experienced violence within their relationships “recorded significantly poorer health than women who never experienced intimate partner violence, across generations and along the life course” the researchers found. This was true on aspects of wellbeing such as emotional and mental health, bodily pain, physical functioning and general health.
Lead author Professor Deborah Loxton said one particularly interesting finding was that “women in their 20s with poor mental health were more prone to experience domestic violence at a later date”. She said those who had higher levels of mental health at the beginning of the study “didn’t enter into a violent relationship as commonly as other women”. This led Loxton’s team to conclude that “poor mental health was a risk factor for entering a violent relationship”.
The study only focused on violence between partners. Other kinds of domestic violence, such as when family members abuse each other, were not included.
The full results were published in the academic journal PLoS ONE earlier this week.