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Profile of a battered woman: probably not what you would expect

Thomas Secrest's picture
Domestic violence; It will never happen again; Image by Thomas Secrest

What do the following groups of women have in common: white, over 40, with children and with a college degree? If you said they are all struggling to survive the American middle class meltdown, you would probably be, at least partially, correct.

While the collapse of the American middle class is a tragedy, a far, far greater tragedy is that a June 2013 study, published in the Lancet, found that a stronger link between the above groups of women was domestic violence.

I have to say that one of the more disturbing things about the PRAISE study (Prevalence of Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence Surgical Evaluation) was where they went to collect information. IPV (Intimate Partner Violence), which sounds way too much like some silly virus to suite me, is something that is usually kept hidden. Studies show that women often do their best to keep others from knowing, even their family doctors. Women don’t seek treatment if the injuries will heal without intervention and they use makeup to hide bruises. More obvious traumas are covered by deceit and lies about the cause of the injuries.

So where do you go to interview women about domestic abuse? It’s a sad but obvious choice. You go to places a woman would go for an injury that won’t heal without medical attention. You go to places where they fix broken bones; you go to orthopedic fracture clinics.

Twelve fracture clinics in Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Denmark, and India took part in the study, which surveyed 2945 female patients. “The patients anonymously answered questions about physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and responded to 2 surveys, the Women Abuse Screening Tool and the Partner Violence Screen.”

The study, beyond identifying the groups mentioned above, found that 1 in 6 patients visiting fracture clinics had been a victim of domestic violence within the past year. One in 3 patients reported domestic violence at some point in their life, and 2% of all visits were directly related to domestic violence. For 94% of the women, the survey was the first time they had been approached by health-care providers about domestic violence. For women in India, it was the first time any of them had ever been asked.

Researchers also compared data relative to geographical region. They found that women form the Netherlands and Demark were a lower risk of domestic violence that women from Canada and the United States.

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In terms of relationships, they found that women in short-term relationships were more likely to have experienced abuse in the past 12 months than women in long-term relationships.

Because of the size of the PRAISE study, the statistical power was extremely high, which makes the results very reliable. The results are so reliable that it led the study authors to write: “Orthopedic surgeons should be confident in the assumption that one in six women have a history of physical abuse, and that one in 50 injured women will present to the clinic as a direct result of IPV.”

The authors also noted that: “Our findings warrant serious consideration for fracture clinics to improve identification of, respond to, and provide referral services for, victims of IPV.”

There has been a steady increase in the number of reported cases of domestic abuse. It is long past time that the issue be brought into focus. Domestic violence has to be pulled from dark into the light and subjected to an open and frank discussion of its causes.

I am going to offer the following observations. They are not complete arguments, but they might serve as starting points for those wishing to advocate for the powerless women trapped in a cycle of domestic violence. I do not have the references to back up my observations, but I suspect that, while it would be time consuming, it would be, otherwise, fairly easy.

To my eyes:

  • domestic violence is and always has been more common in more conservative societies than in more progressive societies and within conservative societies, the more conservative, the more domestic violence;
  • domestic violence has always been more common in religious societies than in more secular societies and within religious societies, the more religious the more domestic violence;
  • domestic violence has always been more common in patriarchal societies than in matriarchal societies or gender neutral societies.

I suggest that America is becoming more conservative, more religious and more patriarchal and the result is a society that is increasingly tolerant of domestic violence. Since America is now a nation divided along conservative – progressive and religious – secular lines, it actually should be pretty easy to test my hypothesis. It would be as easy as taking the election map and comparing domestic violence in states that went overwhelmingly red with those that went overwhelmingly blue. If I’m correct, red states should have more cases of domestic violence than blue states, after adjusting for possible con-founders (income, education, employment, etc.). If I’m wrong, there shouldn't be a difference.

What do you think? Is America moving in the direction of more and more domestic violence? If I’m right, it needs to be stopped now!