Intimate partner violence is a preventable health problem affecting more than 1 million people in the United States each year. Those affected can be of any sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, education level or sexual orientation.
Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, is the physical, sexual, or psychological harm — including stalking — by a current or former partner or spouse. It is considered an epidemic in the U.S.
An estimated 31 percent of women and 26 percent of men have experienced IPV in their lifetimes. Despite its prevalence, it is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S. Every minute, 20 people will become victims of physical violence by a partner.
In 2010, according to the FBI, 37.5 percent of murdered women were killed by an intimate partner. Pregnant women and those who were recently pregnant are more likely to be victims of a homicide than to die from any other cause, making IPV the leading cause of maternal mortality and adverse health outcomes.
Women 16 to 24 years of age are most at risk for abuse. Young victims of physical dating violence often engage in dangerous and unhealthy lifestyles. They are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use illicit drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviors and attempt or consider suicide.
One of the keys to preventing and decreasing the prevalence of IPV is through education and medical screenings done by health care providers. Health care professionals can educate and help victims understand that they are not alone; offering support and resources that can help change the cycle of violence.
Since 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has designated screening for intimate partner violence for all women of childbearing age (14 to 46 years old) as an important prevention tool.
However, women in this age group are not the only vulnerable population affected by intimate partner violence; screenings are also encouraged for older adults and men - both in same sex and heterosexual relationships.
Screenings should occur in a safe environment. It is important for clinicians to ask non-judgmental questions, document the conversations and physical examination findings as well as assess the patient's safety. Finally, it is vital that the health care provider review the patient's options with them and provide referrals and resources.
Health care providers must seek to empower victims to understand the destructive nature of an abusive relationship and its negative effect on their health.