Victims of chronic dating violence
This illuminating feature explores the connection between domestic violence and chronic illness, drawing on recent scientific research and interviews with medical experts and survivors of violence.
Judges called it “a tremendous story on a new concept” and praised Jetter for “clearly articulating the biological ramifications of trauma.” Originally published in More Magazine in November, 2013.
“After all the work I’ve done in the past 14 years, getting away from the men who were abusing me and getting my mind in a good place, I really thought I was there,” she says. And it wasn’t until I was safe that those symptoms started to emerge.” Domestic violence (DV) has an insidiously long half-life. Some of the damage is from old physical injuries, some from the chronic stress of living in terror for too long.
Women who left their abusers five, 10, even 20 years ago and believed they had closed that chapter of their lives now face far higher than normal rates of chronic health problems, including arthritis and hormonal disorders, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain, severe headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. medical costs attributable to domestic violence, including years-old assaults that still cause health problems, range from billion to billion, according to a 2008 study funded by the U. These findings were a surprise even to researchers who are exploring the DV–chronic illness connection.
“These are women who are wealthy and educated, who are worried about notoriety in the community.
“It sounds like when you knock on a cantaloupe to see if it’s ripe,” Sarah, now 47, says with a sad laugh.
As a result, these women spend nearly 20 percent more money on medical care than other women. “When I started this work more than a decade ago, we knew that women who experienced violence were at higher risk of developing chronic diseases like asthma but our understanding of the bio-logical link was limited,” says Michele Black, an epidemiologist at the CDC who was the lead author of a landmark 2011 report on DV-related illness.
“Now we’re beginning to understand why that might be. Your whole body is at risk.” The damage, which lingers long after the violence is over, can impair a woman’s brain function, endocrine system, immune response—even her DNA.
“My endocrine system just hardwired the violence into me,” Sarah says. When she was five, a friend’s father began to sexually abuse her, an ordeal that didn’t end until she was seven.
She recalls nothing of those years and had always hoped to fill that void in her childhood with a baby of her own.
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The attacks started the week before they married and lasted until she left, nearly four years later. He was very clever about it.” Today, despite being in otherwise robust health, Steiner says she has terrible short-term memory problems and arthritis in her shoulders, hands, wrists, joints and ankles—precisely where she sustained injuries 20 years ago.