Abuse of Spouse OR Partner
- Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
- Symptoms & Signs
- Diagnosis & Tests
- Prevention & Expectations
- Treatment & Monitoring
Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Abuse of spouse or partner occurs when one partner attempts to harm the other in a relationship in which the two people are dating, married, or living together. A recent study of girls in 9th through 12th grade found that one out of five girls was physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
Abuse can take different forms, for example:
What are the causes and risks of the injury?
Spousal abuse happens to people of all religions, ethnic origins, and income levels. It happens in both man-woman and same-sex relationships. Women are the victims of domestic violence in 9 out of 10 cases, most often when they are between the ages of 19 and 29.
Recent studies show a man is more likely to abuse his spouse or partner if he has been violent in the past. A partnership also has a higher chance of becoming violent if one or more of the following risk factors are present.
When two of these factors are present in a relationship, the risk of violence doubles. A couple with seven or more of these risk factors is 40 times more likely to have an abusive relationship.
Experts know that teens who have been abused are at higher risk for other health problems. However, we do not yet know whether the health problems came before the abuse or if the abuse increased the risk for the health problems. These problems include:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?
The physical signs of spousal abuse can include:
The emotional signs of abuse are not as easy to see. The victim may have these traits:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the injury recognized?
There are not always physical signs of spousal abuse. While cuts and bruises may cause suspicion, emotional symptoms may not. Victims of abuse are often too afraid to report the abuse. An jealous partner who is controlling or hostile in public may be a signal to others that there is abuse. When a friend, family member, or caregiver suspects abuse, he or she should ask about it and offer to help.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the injury?
The best way to prevent abuse is to teach children how to solve problems without using violence. Teenagers and young adults should be taught that it's never OK to abuse a partner. Parents and doctors should provide teens with facts and statistics about dating violence. The teens should be given specific information about behaviors that are part of dating violence. They should be encouraged to discuss any issues or concerns with a parent or other trusted adult.
Since health concerns such as cocaine use are associated with a higher risk for partner abuse, doctors should address dating violence when treating teens with these health concerns. Careful screening can help identify at-risk teens and provide a chance to stop the abuse cycle.
As citizens, we can also help prevent the cycle of abuse in our society by pushing for these measures.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the injury?
Victims who are physically hurt may need treatment for their injuries. Counseling and psychiatric treatment for any victim of abuse may prevent long-term effects. This treatment may include:
The abuser may need help in the following ways:
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are often used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, which is also called PTSD. The most common side effects are:
Some people also become more anxious or irritable. Others may develop sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction.
None of the side effects are long-lasting. Within weeks of starting an SSRI, most people can tolerate the side effects they have. For other people, side effects go away. When they are constant and uncomfortable, a change in the medicine or dosage or the addition of another medicine often helps.
What happens after treatment for the injury?
If antidepressants are used, it may take a few weeks to a month for the full effect to be felt by the person taking them.
Long-term effects can include PTSD. In this case, this disorder is a result of physical, mental, or sexual violence. The victim may have the following conditions:
Even if the victim doesn't suffer from PTSD, he or she may have other long-term effects, such as:
Studies show that half of men who abuse their partners also abuse their children. Abused mothers often have trouble holding jobs. They also need welfare more often. This means that children from abusive homes are at a greater risk of being poor and homeless.
Local, state, and federal agencies, including police and social services, keep spousal abuse statistics. Many foundations, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the American Bar Association, also monitor abuse. Local agencies that receive reports of abuse from healthcare workers and other sources investigate and track high-risk families.
Author:Karl M. Jacobs, MD
Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Berry DB. Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1995.