Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Abuse of spouse or partner occurs when one partner attempts to harm
the other in a relationship in which the two people are dating, married,
or living together. A recent study of girls in 9th through 12th grade
found that one out of five girls was physically and/or sexually abused
by a dating partner.
Abuse can take different forms, for example:
In this type of abuse, the abuser might make angry remarks in
private or public that cause the victim to feel worthless and ashamed.
This type of abuse can include hitting, slapping, punching, or beating.
Sexual abuse. This type of abuse can mean forcing
a partner to have sex against his or her will. It can also include making a
partner do sexual acts that he or she finds degrading. Forcing a woman
to risk pregnancy
or sexually transmitted disease
is another form of sexual abuse.
What are the causes and risks of the injury?
Spousal abuse happens to people of all religions, ethnic
origins, and income levels. It happens in both man-woman and same-sex
relationships. Women are the victims of domestic violence in 9 out of
10 cases, most often when they are between the ages of 19 and 29.
Recent studies show a man is more likely to abuse his
spouse or partner if he has been violent in the past. A partnership also
has a higher chance of becoming violent if one or more of the following
risk factors are present.
At least one partner has committed child abuse
At least one partner has not finished high school.
At least one partner has problems with drug abuse or addiction.
At least one partner is a blue-collar worker.
At least one partner is between the ages of 18 and 30.
At least one partner is unemployed.
Each partner has a different religion.
The couple lives together but are unmarried.
The couple has poor living conditions.
The male partner saw his father hit his mother.
When two of these factors are present in a relationship,
the risk of violence doubles. A couple with seven or more of these risk
factors is 40 times more likely to have an abusive relationship.
Experts know that teens who have been abused are at higher
risk for other health problems. However, we do not yet know whether the health
problems came before the abuse or if the abuse increased the risk for the
health problems. These problems include:
including binge drinking
risky sexual behaviors, including sex before age 15 and with many partners
attempts or thoughts
unhealthy weight management,
including eating disorders
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?
The physical signs of spousal abuse can include:
injuries on different parts of the body, in various stages of healing
unexplained cuts, head injuries,
The emotional signs of abuse are not as easy to see. The
victim may have these traits:
feelings of anxiety
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the injury recognized?
There are not always physical signs of spousal abuse.
While cuts and bruises may cause suspicion, emotional symptoms
may not. Victims of abuse are often too afraid to report the abuse.
An jealous partner who is controlling or hostile in public may
be a signal to others that there is abuse. When a friend, family
member, or caregiver suspects abuse, he or she should ask about it
and offer to help.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the injury?
The best way to prevent abuse is to teach children how to
solve problems without using violence. Teenagers and young adults
should be taught that it's never OK to abuse a partner. Parents and
doctors should provide teens with facts and statistics about dating
violence. The teens should be given specific information about behaviors
that are part of dating violence. They should be encouraged to discuss
any issues or concerns with a parent or other trusted adult.
Since health concerns such as cocaine use are associated with a
higher risk for partner abuse, doctors should address dating
violence when treating teens with these health concerns. Careful screening can
help identify at-risk teens and provide a chance to stop the abuse cycle.
As citizens, we can also help prevent the cycle of abuse in
our society by pushing for these measures.
Make sure judges and police enforce domestic violence laws. This
tells abusers that their actions have consequences. It also helps victims feel
safer about reporting their abuse.
Provide shelters and other support programs that enable victims to leave an
unsafe home and avoid further abuse.
Teach abusers how to vent their anger without using violence. Offer drug
and alcohol treatment when needed.
Train doctors to ask the person they are treating about abuse
if they suspect it. They also need to be trained to keep careful records of any
physical evidence of abuse.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the injury?
Victims who are physically hurt may need treatment
for their injuries. Counseling and psychiatric treatment for any victim
of abuse may prevent long-term effects. This treatment may include:
and group therapy
job, welfare, and housing assistance to help the victim become
medicine, such as antidepressants
The abuser may need help in the following ways:
alcohol and drug treatment
treatment to learn how to control his or her anger
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors or SSRIs are often used to treat symptoms of
anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder,
which is also called PTSD. The most common side effects are:
Some people also become more anxious or irritable.
Others may develop sexual problems, such as
None of the side effects are long-lasting. Within weeks of
starting an SSRI, most people can tolerate the side effects they have.
For other people, side effects go away. When they are constant and
uncomfortable, a change in the medicine or dosage or the addition
of another medicine often helps.
What happens after treatment for the injury?
If antidepressants are used, it may take a few weeks to a
month for the full effect to be felt by the person taking them.
Long-term effects can include PTSD. In this case, this disorder
is a result of physical, mental, or sexual violence. The victim may have
the following conditions:
acute situational anxiety generalized anxiety disorder panic disorder post-traumatic stress disorder phobias obsessive compulsive disorders
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feelings of isolation
nightmares and flashbacks
a tendency to avoid other people
Even if the victim doesn't suffer from PTSD, he or she
may have other long-term effects, such as:
living in poverty
trouble staying in school or keeping a job
Studies show that half of men who abuse their partners also
abuse their children.
Abused mothers often have trouble holding jobs. They also need welfare
more often. This means that children from abusive homes are at a greater
risk of being poor and homeless.
Local, state, and federal agencies, including police and
social services, keep spousal abuse statistics. Many foundations, such
as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the American
Bar Association, also monitor abuse. Local agencies that receive
reports of abuse from healthcare workers and other sources investigate
and track high-risk families.