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Effects of violence against women
Violence against women can cause long-term physical and mental health problems. Violence and abuse affect not just the women involved but also their children, families, and communities. These effects include harm to an individual’s health, possibly long-term harm to children, and harm to communities such as lost work and homelessness.Expand all|Collapse all
What are the short-term physical effects of violence against women?
The short-term physical effects of violence can include minor injuries or serious conditions. They can include bruises, cuts, broken bones, or injuries to organs and other parts inside of your body. Some physical injuries are difficult or impossible to see without scans, x-rays, or other tests done by a doctor or nurse.
Short-term physical effects of sexual violence can include:
- Vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
If you are pregnant, a physical injury can hurt you and the unborn child. This is also true in some cases of sexual assault.
If you are sexually assaulted by the person you live with, and you have children in the home, think about your children’s safety also. Violence in the home often includes child abuse.1 Many children who witness violence in the home are also victims of physical abuse.2 Learn more about the effects of domestic violence on children.
If you are injured in a physical or sexual assault, call 911.
What are the long-term physical effects of violence against women?
Violence against women, including sexual or physical violence, is linked to many long-term health problems. These can include:3
- Chronic pain
- Digestive problems such as stomach ulcers
- Heart problems
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Nightmares and problems sleeping
- Migraine headaches
- Sexual problems such as pain during sex
- Problems with the immune system
Many women also have mental health problems after violence. To cope with the effects of the violence, some women start misusing alcohol or drugs or engage in risky behaviors, such as having unprotected sex. Sexual violence can also affect someone’s perception of their own bodies, leading to unhealthy eating patterns or eating disorders. If you are experiencing these problems, know that you are not alone. There are resources that can help you cope with these challenges.
How is traumatic brain injury related to domestic violence?
A serious risk of physical abuse is concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI) from being hit on the head or falling and hitting your head. TBI can cause:4
- Headache or a feeling of pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep loss
Some symptoms of TBI may take a few days to show up. Over a longer time, TBI can cause depression and anxiety. TBI can also cause problems with your thoughts, including the ability to make a plan and carry it out. This can make it more difficult for a woman in an abusive relationship to leave. Even if you think you are OK after hitting your head, talk to you doctor or nurse if you have any of these symptoms. Treatment for TBI can help.
What are the mental health effects of violence against women?
If you have experienced a physical or sexual assault, you may feel many emotions — fear, confusion, anger, or even being numb and not feeling much of anything. You may feel guilt or shame over being assaulted. Some people try to minimize the abuse or hide it by covering bruises and making excuses for the abuser.
If you’ve been physically or sexually assaulted or abused, know that it is not your fault. Getting help for assault or abuse can help prevent long-term mental health effects and other health problems.
Long-term mental health effects of violence against women can include:5
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can be a result of experiencing trauma or having a shocking or scary experience, such as sexual assault or physical abuse.6 You may be easily startled, feel tense or on edge, have difficulty sleeping, or have angry outbursts. You may also have trouble remembering things or have negative thoughts about yourself or others. If you think you have PTSD, talk to a mental health professional.
- Depression. Depression is a serious illness, but you can get help to feel better. If you are feeling depressed, talk to a mental health professional.
- Anxiety. This can be general anxiety about everything, or it can be a sudden attack of intense fear. Anxiety can get worse over time and interfere with your daily life. If you are experiencing anxiety, you can get help from a mental health professional.
Other effects can include shutting people out, not wanting to do things you once enjoyed, not being able to trust others, and having low-esteem.1
Many women who have experienced violence cope with this trauma by using drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, or overeating. Research shows that about 90% of women with substance use problems had experienced physical or sexual violence.7
Substance use may make you feel better in the moment, but it ends up making you feel worse in the long-term. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or overeating will not help you forget or overcome the experience. Get help if you’re thinking about or have been using alcohol or drugs to cope.
Who can help women who have been abused or assaulted?
After you get help for physical injuries, a mental health professional can help you cope with emotional concerns. A counselor or therapist can work with you to deal with your emotions in healthy ways, build your self-esteem, and help you develop coping skills. You can ask your doctor for the name of a therapist, or you can search an online list of mental health services. Learn more about getting help for your mental health.
Victims of sexual assault can also talk for free with someone who is trained to help through the National Sexual Assault Hotline over the phone at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or online.
What are some other effects of violence against women?
Violence against women has physical and mental health effects, but it can also affect the lives of women who are abused in other ways:
- Work. Experiencing a trauma like sexual violence may interfere with someone’s ability to work. Half of women who experienced sexual assault had to quit or were forced to leave their jobs in the first year after the assault. Total lifetime income loss for these women is nearly $250,000 each.8
- Home. Many women are forced to leave their homes to find safety because of violence. Research shows that half of all homeless women and children became homeless while trying to escape intimate partner violence.9
- School. Women in college who are sexually assaulted may be afraid to report the assault and continue their education. But Title IX laws require schools to provide extra support for sexual assault victims in college. Schools can help enforce no-contact orders with an abuser and provide mental health counseling and school tutoring.
- Children. Women with children may stay with an abusive partner because they fear losing custody or contact with their children.
Sometimes, violence against women ends in death. More than half of women who are murdered each year are killed by an intimate partner.10 One in 10 of these women experienced violence in the month before their death. If you have experienced abuse, contact a hotline at 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233), or learn more ways to get help.
Did we answer your question about the effects of violence against women?
For more information about the effects of violence against women, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
- A Head for the Future — Information on traumatic brain injury from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.
- The Costs and Consequences of Sexual Violence and Cost-Effective Solutions (PDF, 220 KB) — Publication from the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
- Effects of Sexual Violence — Information from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator — Links to mental health services from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — Information from the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Traumatic Event: What to Expect in Your Personal, Family, Work, and Financial Life — Publication from SAMHSA.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Intimate Partner Violence: Consequences.
- Modi, M.N., Palmer, S., Armstrong, A. (2014). The Role of Violence Against Women Act in Addressing Intimate Partner Violence: A Public Health Issue. Journal of Women’s Health; 23(3): 253-259.
- Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (2016). Recognize TBI and Concussion.
- Delara, M. (2016). Mental Health Consequences and Risk Factors of Physical Intimate Partner Violence. Mental Health in Family Medicine; 12: 119-125.
- Jina, R., Thomas, L.S. (2013). Health consequences of sexual violence against women. Best Practice and Research: Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology; 27: 15-26.
- Beijer, U., Scheffel Birath, C., DeMartinis, V., Af Klinteberg, B. (2015). Facets of Male Violence Against Women With Substance Abuse Problems: Women With a Residence and Homeless Women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence; Dec 4. pii: 0886260515618211.
- National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. (2011). The Costs and Consequences of Sexual Violence and Cost-Effective Solutions.
- Goodman, L.A., Fels, K., Glenn, C., Benitez, J. (2011). No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
- Petrosky, E., Blair, J.M., Betz, C.J., Fowler, K.A., Jack, S.P.D., Lyons, B.H. (2017). Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence – United States, 2003-2014. MMWR; 66: 741-746.
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The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the medical review in 2017 by:
Kathleen C. Basile, Ph.D., Lead Behavioral Scientist, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Kathryn Jones, M.S.W., Public Health Advisor, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Sharon G. Smith, Ph.D., Behavioral Scientist, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Staff
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: March 02, 2018.
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