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The impact on victims

Victims of domestic violence and abuse are likely to experience serious health problems as a consequence. In this article, we’re going to explore the impact of DVA on women’s health and hear from survivors about how they have been affected.

This step contains first-hand accounts of abuse which are voiced by actors. A text transcript is available for all of the audio clips in this step under the Downloads section.

IPV is a public health problem of epidemic proportions. It affects women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health.

The diagram below seeks to explain the multiple pathways through which IPV leads to adverse health outcomes, which in turn lead to disability and death.

A diagram showing intimate partner violence broken down into three pathways - physical trauma, psychological trauma and stress, and fear and control - through which intimate partner violence can lead to adverse health effects. Pathways and health effects on intimate partner violence. Adapted from Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, World Health Organization (2013)

This includes direct pathways, such as physical violence resulting in injury and death, as well as indirect pathways, for example, exposure to violence leading to substance abuse or a chronic illness, which then results in injury or death.

An accessibility tagged version of this diagram is available under the Downloads section.

Physical trauma

Approximately 42% of women who experience physical or sexual IPV sustain injuries as a result. These injuries could be severe and may result in permanent disability such as a loss of limb, hearing loss and damage to teeth.

There are many examples of minor injuries. These may include cuts, punctures, bruises and bites. We also know that victims of DVA report higher rates of poor health, compromised ability to walk, pain, vaginal discharge, loss of memory, dizziness and self-harm.

In the following audio clips, survivors of DVA explain their experience of physical trauma.

Survivor Testimony 1: “I have bruises all over my body”

Survivor Testimony 2: “I lost hearing in one ear”

Sexual and reproductive health

DVA is a major contributor to sexual and reproductive health problems, including maternal health and neonatal health problems.

When DVA happens in the form of sexual IPV, its impact may include unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and other gynaecological problems.

In some regions, victims are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and 1.6 times more likely to have Syphilis compared to women who do not suffer partner violence.

In the following audio clips, survivors of DVA explain the effect that IPV has had on their reproductive and sexual health.

Survivor Testimony 3: “I had a miscarriage”

Survivor Testimony 4: “I didn’t know my partner had AIDS”

Depression and suicide

DVA is a major contributor to women’s mental health problems, particularly depression and suicidality. In fact, women who have experienced partner violence are more than twice as likely to experience depression.

Other psychological effects can include fear, low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, disassociation, sleep disorders, shame, guilt, lack of confidence, self-mutilation, drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders.

Psychological consequences may also manifest through psychosomatic symptoms, sexual dysfunction and eating problems.

In the following audio clips, survivors of DVA explain how IPV has affected their mental health.

Survivor Testimony 5: “I can not sleep at all”

Survivor Testimony 6: “I started drinking heavily to cope”

What do you think?

The wide range of health effects that victims experience mean that healthcare providers will frequently encounter victims of DVA. What does this mean for healthcare providers?

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This article is from the free online course:

Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence

The University of Sheffield