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May 23, 2012

Female Victims of Domestic Violence 75 Times More Likely to Self Harm

Original Document by: Back to The Science of Mental Health

Women who deliberately self harm are 75 times more likely to report physical and/or verbal abuse by a partner than women who do not harm themselves, indicates research in Emergency Medicine Journal.

The findings are based on a two week study of patients in the emergency medicine department at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge in 2001. During that period, 270 people out of a possible 307 agreed to complete a questionnaire on whether actual or threatened domestic violence by a partner had obliged them to seek emergency care. Data from 256 questionnaires were assessed.

There was no evidence that domestic abuse was linked to alcohol or to greater use of emergency medical services. But the figures indicated that around one in 100 patients had been a victim of partner abuse which required emergency medical treatment.

But when asked if they had ever suffered domestic violence, almost one in five men and one in five women said that they had.

Based on these figures, the authors calculate that among 55 000 patients turning up for emergency care at any one hospital, the cause would be domestic violence in around 500 adults. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, the authors suggest, noting that roughly a quarter of all emergency department patients are under the age of 16.

The average age of men seeking emergency care during the study period was 38; the average age for women was 47. While there was no obvious age difference between those men reporting domestic violence and those denying it, women who reported abuse tended to be younger.

This suggests that either domestic abuse is becoming more common or that it has become less of a taboo and younger generations of women are more willing to admit to it, say the authors. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many victims of partner abuse are unwilling to report it to healthcare professionals, they add.

Women who self harmed were 75 times more likely to report partner abuse than women who did not. Men who self harmed were over twice as likely to report partner abuse as those who did not.

The authors say that domestic violence could lead to self harm, or that self harm could itself be associated with certain personality traits that dispose a person to an increased risk of an abusive relationship.

The authors caution that theirs is a small study, reflecting practice in just one unit. But they conclude: "large proportions of both male and female patients attending emergency departments suffer ongoing domestic violence. This is often not disclosed to medical staff."
- Emergency Medicine Journal

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