In the Spotlight

Domestic Violence: A Hidden Problem that Can Not Be Ignored

Contributed by Elizabeth A Manning, PhD; Megan Gerber, MD, MPH; and Katherine M Iverson, PhD; and Women's Health Services, VHA

man with head in hands

Domestic Violence should not happen but it does. When you think of domestic violence what comes to mind? Do you picture a woman that has been beaten or battered? Do you know that domestic abuse does not always involve physical injury? Moreover, it can happen to anyone regardless of sex, age or size. No one should live in fear of being harmed by someone they know. Sadly, many times the problem is overlooked or denied. Understanding domestic violence, knowing the warning signs, what you can do and how to get help are steps to help end this problem.

Understanding Domestic Violence

Let us start with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). IPV happens when a current or former spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend stalks, harms, or threatens to harm their partner, physically, emotionally, or sexually. In addition, IPV is sometimes referred to as domestic violence. This term refers to any violence among family members. Individuals who have experienced IPV may have many health problems beyond any immediate physical injury, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Gynecological or pregnancy complications

Individuals who have experienced or are experiencing IPV may have a hard time keeping a job. They may also have trouble with their finances and the ability to support themselves or their children.

IPV is not gender specific. Both men and women can be victims of IPV. However, women, especially younger women, are most likely to be at risk. National surveys indicate that 1 in 4 women experience physical or sexual IPV in their lifetime. IPV can occur in both same sex and opposite sex relationships.

Research suggests IPV may happen more often among military service members and Veterans than civilians. Stress and PTSD may increase the risk for IPV in some Veteran relationships. One survey found that 24% of female VA patients under age 50 experienced IPV in the past year.

The good news is that there are VA programs aimed at addressing the health effects of IPV and reducing IPV risk. For example, the VA is researching and developing several IPV intervention programs, including a couples-based therapy program. The VA is also researching and developing better ways to ask about IPV in primary care settings.

There are many types of talk therapies, which may help those who have experienced IPV deal with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Some of these therapies, such as cognitive processing therapy, are available to Veterans through the VA and at Vet Centers. They are there to help men and women with safety planning and locating services. Plus, every VA medical center has a Women Veterans Program Manager who can help.

Know the Warning Signs

woman holding head in sadness
  • My partner has injured me badly enough that I needed medical attention
  • My partner follows me everywhere I go or needs to know what I am doing at all times
  • My partner has threatened to hurt my children or pets
  • My partner abuses alcohol or drugs
  • My partner has forced me to have sex
  • My partner has threatened to kill me
  • My partner has threatened to kill himself/herself
  • My partner has a gun or can get a gun easily
  • My partner is violent toward other people
  • My partner destroys my belongings
  • My partner controls my money
  • My partner tells me who I can spend time with
  • My partner calls me harsh names and makes me feel worthless

What You Can Do

If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, do not print this material or leave it where your partner could find it.

Build independence

  • Start saving money and store it in a safe place, such as a separate bank account
  • Talk to your VA health care provider about what is going on
  • Get help from a counselor, a health care provider, or legal services
  • Keep in touch with a trustworthy friend or family member

Be prepared

  • Keep a little cash with you
  • Keep your cell phone charged and with you
  • Teach your children to go to a safe place (a friend's, neighbor's, or relative's home)
  • Keep an emergency bag ready with
    • Medications/prescriptions
    • Phone card/change for pay phones
    • Extra keys
    • Bank card/credit cards
    • Custody order
    • Work permits
    • Photos of abuser
    • Address book
    • Your child's favorite toys
    • Money
    • Cell phone and charger
    • Photo ID/driver's license
    • Restraining order
    • Passports/immigration papers/green cards
    • Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card
    • Clothes
    • Toiletries and diapers

How to Get Help

In addition to VA programs, there are community resources to help individuals who have experienced IPV. National and local hotlines can connect those who have experienced IPV with local shelters and programs where they can find safety and support.

  • In an emergency you should call 911
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
  • National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

Learn more

 

Updated/Reviewed: October 18, 2016