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Women's Health

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Women sexually abused by partners have worse health than never abused women, even years after the abuse has stopped

Thirty-four percent of women surveyed in a large health plan had suffered from physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) during their adult lifetime. Sexual IPV took an enormous toll on women's health, whether or not they also suffered from physical IPV—their depression and physical symptoms persisted for many years after the abuse had stopped, according to a new study.

The researchers analyzed the surveys of 3,429 insured women about whether they had ever suffered from physical or sexual IPV, as well as their mental, social, and physical health. Although 34 percent of the women had suffered from sexual and/or physical IPV, only 5 percent said they suffered the abuse within the past year. For the others, it had been a median of 19 years since the last episode of abuse. Compared with never abused women, women with a history of sexual IPV had the worst overall health.

Women with a history of sexual IPV only had scores on the mental and social health components of the Short Form-36 survey that were 4.28 to 6.22 points lower than nonabused women, and women with a history of both physical and sexual IPV had scores that were 4.95 to 5.81 points lower. Women who suffered from physical IPV only had scores that were 2.41 to 2.87 points lower than never abused women.

Depression was also more prevalent among sexually abused women than other women. Compared with never abused women, women with a history of sexual IPV only had 2.4 to 3 times greater prevalence of depressive and severe depressive symptoms.

Women with a history of both physical and sexual IPV had 2.3 to 2.9 times greater prevalence, and women who had been physically abused only had 1.6 to 1.9 times greater prevalence of these symptoms than never abused women.

Finally, compared with never abused women, women who were both physically and sexually abused were nearly twice as likely to report fair or poor health, had more overall symptoms, more limited involvement in voluntary groups, and less trust of individuals in their community. The study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10909).

See "Health outcomes in women with physical and sexual intimate partner violence exposure," by Amy E. Bonomi, Ph.D., M.P.H., Melissa L. Anderson, M.S., Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., and Robert S. Thompson, M.D., in the September 2007 Journal of Women's Health 16(7), pp. 987-997.

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