Violence Against Women Has Got to Stop

Imagine: You’re in your early 30s, just graduated with your master’s degree, and you’re looking for a teaching job. You’re in an exciting new relationship, and embarking on job interviews. Everything seems great at first - the interviews are going well, and your partner is supporting you through this stressful process.

After a couple of months, though, your partner is no longer as supportive as you’d like him to be – what previously was a celebratory dinner after a great interview is now annoyance that you got home late. Small, negative comments are causing you to doubt yourself, and you go into interviews with less confidence than before. The comments slowly escalate, and soon you’re receiving text messages from your partner every hour, asking where you are.

One night, you arrive home, and your partner shoves you out of the way as he walks past you. You chalk it up to the alcohol he’s had, and are comforted when he apologizes in the morning. But the cycle doesn’t end, and soon, family and friends begin to take notice of the bruises on your arms, and the dark circles under your eyes. But you live together now, and it’s nice to come home to someone who knows you so well…

What is the problem?

Every year, winter marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Although men are affected by violence as well, the United Nations estimates that about 1 out of 3 women worldwide will have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lives, primarily by an intimate partner. This includes intimate partner violence (IPV), rape, forced marriage, sex trafficking, and female genital mutilation, among many other types of physical abuse. 

Additionally, roughly half of women killed worldwide are killed by their intimate partners or family, compared with only 1 in 20 men. Tragically, homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant women. In the United States alone, 3 to 4 million women are abused every year, and about 1,500 women are killed by their abusers. As staggering as these statistics are, many experts agree that these phenomena are probably underreported.

What is the cost?

Women who experience all types of violence endure tremendous pain and suffering, resulting in earlier death and decreased quality of life due to physical, psychological, and emotional problems. They are more likely to attempt and commit suicide. Children of IPV victims are more likely to have physical, psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems that can result in missing or dropping out of school, and increased juvenile and adult crime rates. Girls who witness IPV are more likely to experience IPV as adults, and boys who witness IPV are more likely to become abusers. 

From a financial standpoint, the most recent data indicates that IPV in the U.S. costs nearly $6 billion each year, about $4 billion of which is related to medical and mental health services, even though less than 1 out of 5 victims seek care for their injuries. IPV results in over 18.5 million mental health care visits each year. Females who experience IPV lose over 8 million hours of paid work each year, the equivalent of over 32,000 full-time jobs, as a result of abuse, and are less likely to keep up with household tasks and necessary childcare responsibilities. 

What can we do about it?

Violence against women is a preventable problem. We need to increase public awareness and education, and we need to begin openly talking about violence against women in order to change legislative policies and the social and cultural climates that perpetuate these crimes. Prevention and early intervention programs are key. We need to more accurately assess the level of danger a woman may be in, and we need to intervene more quickly for women at greatest risk. 

Although routine screening for IPV should be occurring in all primary care visits, nearly half of American women who were murdered at the hands of an abuser were evaluated in the healthcare system within one year prior to their death. Our healthcare system needs to be better trained as to how to evaluate whether a woman is at risk for IPV, and how to intervene appropriately.  

What resources currently exist?

Fortunately, there are a growing number of convenient, free resources for women who are concerned that they may be in an abusive relationship, as well as resources for their friends and families. These include confidential online assessments, smartphone apps, and toll-free hotlines, which help women and their loved ones evaluate the level of danger and make a plan for getting help. Reach out for help, for yourself or for a loved one:

Where can I get more information?

Together we can make a difference and improve the quality of life for women around the world. Check out these national and international resources for additional statistics, facts, prevention and intervention programs, and other important information:

Briana Snyder, PhD(c), RN-BC, CNE, is a board certified nurse with The Trauma Disorders Program at Sheppard Pratt Health System. She is pursuing her PhD in nursing with a focus on intimate partner violence, which she will complete in December 2016.