New research explores gendered health impacts related to IPV

Mon 03 Apr 2023

Research from He Koiora Matapopore | the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence study looked at health impacts for women and men related to lifetime experience of intimate partner violence (IPV).

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Research on health impacts related to IPV

The researchers found that negative health outcomes were related to lifetime experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) for both men and women. Compared to those who had not experienced IPV, both men and women who had experienced IPV in their lifetime were more likely to report some adverse health outcomes. However, these health impacts differed by gender.  

Women who had experienced any type of IPV (physical, sexual, psychological, controlling or economic) were at increased risk of experiencing 5 of the 7 negative health outcomes assessed in the study. This includes being nearly 3 times more likely to report having a diagnosed mental health condition, twice as likely to report poor general health, and 1.5 times more likely to report having a diagnosed physical health condition (such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, asthma).

For men, experience of any type of IPV was associated with 4 of the 7 health outcomes. However, the increased risks were smaller (e.g. 1.7 times increased risk of a diagnosed mental condition). There was no association with having a diagnosed physical health condition for men who had experienced any type of IPV.  

There were also gender differences in the types of violence experienced, and the health outcomes reported. For women, all types of violence were associated with multiple negative health outcomes. Severe physical IPV and controlling IPV were significantly associated with 6 of the 7 health outcomes including diagnosed physical health conditions and diagnosed mental health conditions, poor general health, recent pain or discomfort, recent pain medication, and frequent pain medication. Women who experienced sexual IPV were more likely to experience problems with 5 of the 7 health outcomes with a significant link to pain. The findings also indicate a strong cumulative pattern; the more types of violence women experienced, the more likely they were to experience health outcomes. For example, women who had experienced 4 to 5 types of IPV (over 1 in 10 women) were 4 times more likely to report a diagnosed mental health condition.

For men, any physical IPV was related to poor general health, recent pain or discomfort and frequent use of pain medication. This relationship was linked to exposure to severe physical violence. Psychological IPV was also linked with poor general health and a diagnosed mental health condition. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, there was also no link between health outcomes and experiences of sexual IPV, controlling behaviours or economic abuse for men. There also was not a clear pattern of cumulative health impacts from experiencing multiple forms of violence.

The researchers suggest that "The different health consequences observed for men and women with IPV exposure may be explained by gendered differences in the nature of the violence experienced." The article includes a discussion of these gendered patterns. It notes for example that women's experiences of violence may reflect "chronic patterns of IPV" that might be related to worse health outcomes. They also note that the findings related to health impacts from controlling violence

"...further substantiates claims that experience of controlling behaviors is a highly gendered phenomenon, and dynamics of power and control (which often underpin other IPV types) may play a crucial role in the differences in health outcomes between men and women who experience violent acts."

Noting these gendered differences, the researchers suggest routine inquiry for IPV against men is not needed in clinical settings, but they do call for the provision of appropriate care and services for men who have experienced IPV.

Given the significant impacts to women's health, the researchers call for IPV to be given the same attention as other key determinants of health, writing:

"To adequately address the increased likelihood of adverse health outcomes associated with women’s exposure to IPV, health professionals need to be engaged in nuanced understanding of IPV identification and appropriate responses and should be well supported to provide robust referral options within proactive and dynamic health care systems. Given the higher rates of violence exposure for Māori women and women who were food insecure, health and referral services also need to be equipped to address these disparities. Development of these responsive health care systems must be underpinned by well-designed and comprehensive IPV curricula in medical and health training..."

The research team included Brooklyn Mellar, Ladan Hashemi, Vanessa Selak, Pauline Gulliver, Tracey McIntosh and Janet Fanslow. The researchers used population-based data from the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Survey | He Koiora Matapopore.

Research findings are published in 2 open access (free) articles in JAMA Open Network:

Association between women’s exposure to intimate partner violence and self-reported health outcomes in New Zealand (2023)

Association between men’s exposure to intimate partner violence and self-reported health outcomes in New Zealand (2023)

You can find all articles published from the 2019 NZ Family Violence Study | He Koiora Matapopore in our library.

In an interview with Waatea News Minister Marama Davidson commented on the importance of the research, highlighting that "...violence is a social a determinant of health."

Related research

Atawhai is a three-year research project in the Bay of Plenty that is currently looking at how to make it easier for primary care professionals to respond to whānau experiencing or using violence. The project is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and being led by Dr Claire Gear, Research Fellow at the AUT Centre for Interdisciplinary Trauma Research. In talking about the project, Claire Gear has previously said "Family violence is a key determinant of ill health. To prevent future harm, the value of responding to family violence must be explicitly recognised within health care policy and practice."

Recent research from Australia has looked at health impacts and violence:

A life course approach to determining the prevalence and impact of sexual violence in Australia: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (2022) published by ANROWS

Lifetime health costs of intimate partner violence: A prospective longitudinal cohort study with linked data for out-of-hospital and pharmaceutical costs (2022) published in the journal Economic Modelling

Related media

What new data tells us about the realities of family violence for NZ women, Stuff, 31.03.2023

Partner violence bad for mental health, Waatea News, 10.03.2023 (also listen to the full interview with Professor Tracey McIntosh, Waatea News, 09.03.2023

Report claims even worse consequences for victims of family violence, Te Ao Māori News, 08.03.2023

Family violence is making Kiwis sick, research shows, University of Auckland media release, 08.03.2023

Women’s Refuge Backs Latest Research from University of Auckland Linking Intimate Partner Violence to Long-term Mental and Physical Health Outcomes, Women's Refuge media release, 04.03.2023

Women abused by partners have increased physical, mental health risks, study finds, Stuff, 04.03.2023

Family violence is literally making us sicker – new study finds abuse increases risk of chronic illness, The Conversation, 04.03.2023

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