October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

a woman comforting her friendHello! I'm Dr. Nancy Lee, the director of the Office on Women's Health. I'd like to welcome you to our new blog. I hope it will be a place where you can find discussions of women's health that matter most to you.

October is when the Office on Women's Health recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Having worked in women's health for more than 30 years, I've come across many statistics about women's health. One that is particularly distressing is the number of U.S. women who have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes:

One in three.[1]

Domestic violence is a form of intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV is behavior used by a partner or spouse to maintain power and control over the other. It can include physical violence, sexual violence, threats of physical or sexual violence, and emotional abuse. Although domestic violence can happen to anyone, minority women are more likely to experience abuse.[2]

With one in three women experiencing IPV in her lifetime, you or someone you know has probably been abused. Women who have experienced abuse are not alone. There is help available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) is free, open 24/7, and can help people find support as well as medical and legal services. The Violence Against Women section of this site also has information about getting help and how to help friends who have been abused. Domestic violence is never the victim's fault. No one has the right to hurt another person or make them feel afraid.

The effects of domestic violence can have deep and profound impacts. Women who are abused are more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty with sleep, limitations on their activity, and poor physical and mental health.[3] Violence and trauma can also play a role in increasing a woman's risk for getting HIV. Fear of violence may keep some women from asking their partners to practice safe sex by wearing condoms, getting tested for HIV, or sharing their HIV-positive status. A recent White House report addresses the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender-related health disparities.

In an effort to prevent abuse and improve the health of women who have been abused, the Affordable Care Act requires most insurance plans to cover screening and brief counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence without a copayment. Evidence shows that screenings and appropriate interventions by health care providers can improve the health of women who have been abused.

We want to make sure providers have the tools they need to help their patients. That's why OWH developed free, downloadable information designed to assist health care providers in screening and counseling for IPV. To further help providers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will host the Intimate Partner Violence Screening and Counseling: Research Symposium on December 9, 2013, to identify the gaps in the research on screening. By determining what we know, and pinpointing what we don't, we hope to give health care providers the evidence-based screening tools they need to help women.

I hope you'll join me in spreading the word about Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Far too many of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are being abused. It is likely that a family member, friend, or neighbor has experienced violence at some point in her life. You may have experienced abuse yourself. Join me in speaking out against domestic violence. Together we can end this abuse and improve the lives of women everywhere.

Spread the word by sharing this post with a friend, a neighbor, your sister, or your co-worker and become part of increasing awareness of this important women's health issue.

References

  1. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010
  2. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010
  3. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010