October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey estimated in 2010 that nearly one in three women nationally and nearly half of women in Oklahoma had been a victim of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in her lifetime. On average, three women are killed every day in the U.S. at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. In addition, Oklahoma is ranked third in the nation in the number of women killed by men in single victim-single offender homicides, according to a report from the Violence Policy Center.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) wants to emphasize the need for communities across the state to be involved in activities to prevent domestic violence and raise awareness of those who have been impacted by it.  OSDH encourages health providers to include assessment and referral services for abuse into their practice. The longer an individual is exposed to domestic violence, the more serious and long-lived the impact is on their health.

Nationally, the medical cost of intimate partner violence against women age 18 and older, within the first 12 months after abuse, is estimated at $2.3 billion to $7 billion dollars. Studies have shown increased annual health care costs can persist for as long as 15 years after the abuse ends. The obvious health consequences of domestic violence include physical injuries that often require treatment from a health care provider. These injuries may range from minor cuts, scratches, and bruises to  more serious injuries such as broken bones or head trauma that can result in long-term disabilities. Persons who experience intimate partner violence report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, activity limitations, and poor physical and mental health status, more often than individuals who have not experienced such violence.

Beyond the physical injuries, victims of intimate partner violence may suffer emotional harm including flashbacks, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, depression and eating disorders. Victims can develop a loss of self-worth and be reluctant to seek help. Research shows that 81 percent of women and 35 percent of men who experience rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner report significant short or long term impacts including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Also, having been a victim of domestic violence is linked to an increase in harmful health behaviors. Victims may try to cope with their trauma in unhealthy ways. This includes smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or having risky sex.

Intimate partner violence is preventable and everyone can be part of the solution. Talk to your health care provider if you are in an abusive relationship. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available by calling the Oklahoma Safeline at 1-800-522-SAFE (7233).

To help prevent domestic abuse, talk to your friends and family, especially tweens (ages 11-13), and teens about healthy relationships. Support healthy relationship education in schools, youth groups, and churches. Teaching young people skills for healthy relationships can potentially prevent violence throughout their lifetime. You can also volunteer your time at a local domestic violence program.

More information and resources on domestic violence are available on the OSDH website at http://ips.health.ok.gov (click on Intimate Partner Violence) and at Futures Without Violence at http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/.