Intimate Partner Violence Common in the US

Fran Lowry

December 16, 2011

December 15, 2011 — Intimate partner violence is common in the United States, with more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and 1 in 4 men (28.5%) reporting that they experienced rape, physical violence, stalking, or all 3 by their significant other in their lifetime, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence are major public health problems in the United States, Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told reporters attending a teleconference at CDC headquarters in Atlanta this week.

To get a better understanding of the effect of such violence, the CDC launched the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), its newest public health surveillance system, in 2010 with the support of the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Defense.

Dr. Degutis discussed the results of the survey, which was based on telephone interviews with more than 16,500 English- and Spanish-speaking adults (9086 women and 7421 men) conducted in 2010.

"This is the first survey of its kind to provide both national and state level violence prevalence estimates, and the numbers from the first year of data collection are astounding," she said.

The survey found that nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped at some time in their lives. More than half (51.1%) of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner, and 40.8% by an acquaintance.

Among male victims, more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance, and 15.1% by a stranger.

Lifetime Effects

One in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) experienced stalking at some point during their lifetime. Most female victims (66.2%) and about 40% of male victims were stalked by a current or former intimate partner.

Among victims of intimate partner violence, more than 1 in 3 women experienced multiple forms of rape, stalking, or physical violence; 91% of male victims experienced physical violence alone.

Severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner was experienced by roughly 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%).

Most of these victims first experience these types of violence before they are 25 years old, Dr. Degutis said, often during their teenage years.

The effect of such violence can be immediate, she said. In the survey, 81% of women and 35% of men who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner reported at least one impact of the violence, such as fear, concern for safety, posttraumatic stress disorder, missing at least 1 day at work or school, and the need for medical care or other victim services.

The effect of such violence can also last a lifetime.

"People who experience sexual violence, stalking, or intimate partner violence often deal with the effects their entire life. For example, the NISVS data tell us that it’s much more likely that women who experience violence will have long-term health problems. These include irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, frequent headaches, chronic pain, asthma, and difficulty sleeping," Dr. Degutis said.

Male victims also describe their mental and physical health as poor and reported frequent headaches, chronic pain, and difficulty sleeping.

Prevention Efforts

"Using the data from the NISVS will help us stop the violence before it happens. We know prevention needs to begin early by promoting healthy, respectful relationships in families. We can do this by promoting healthy parent-child relationships, developing positive family dynamics in emotionally supportive environments," said Dr. Degutis.

To this end, a number of programs have been enacted, many through funding from the CDC, Howard R. Spivak, MD, director of the CDC's Division of Violence Prevention, told Medscape Medical News.

"We are funding a program called 'Dating Matters' in 4 cities, piloting a curriculum for middle schools that has promising data to suggest that it improves the quality and safety in dating relationships," Dr. Spivak said.

Other programs are attempting to reach out to bystanders of sexual violence, and these "are beginning to show promising results in terms of changes in attitude and reported behavior," he said.

The CDC is also funding rape prevention programs in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and territories of the United States. The Delta Program is another program focused on preventing intimate partner violence.

"There is a growing set of resources at the state and local level, as well as a growing base of programmatic intervention, many of which are education- based, whether school-based or situated in programs that serve youth in particular," he said.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report. Executive Summary, released Wednesday, December 14, 2011.

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