The health impacts of abuse are more significant than previously thought a new study has revealed.
People who have experienced intimate partner violence or childhood sexual abuse were found to have an increased risk of developing both physical and mental health issues later in life.
The researchers found that survivors of intimate partner violence were 63 per cent more likely to experience major depressive disorders and a third more likely to experience abortion or miscarriage than women who had not been abused.
Alcohol use disorders and self-harm were strongly linked to childhood sexual abuse.
The researchers say that the findings, published in Nature Medicine, highlight the urgent need for ‘robust preventive measures’ to be in place to reduce adverse health outcomes.
Intimate partner violence against women and childhood sexual abuse are two of the most prevalent forms of violence in society. However, the long-term health implications remain poorly understood. Globally, it is estimated that almost one in three women who have had a partner at any point in their life have experienced physical and sexual intimate partner violence or both. Around twenty per cent of young women and almost ten per cent of young men have experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse.
The researchers reviewed over 4,000 studies on intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse and found 229 were suitable for the meta-analysis study. Five health outcomes were examined in relation to intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse, including major depressive disorder, maternal abortion and miscarriage, HIV/AIDS, anxiety disorders and self-harm.
Among the five health outcomes assessed for a relationship with intimate partner violence, major depressive disorders, maternal abortion and miscarriage were found to have the strongest associations with abuse. The results showed a moderate association of intimate partner violence with major depressive disorder and with maternal abortion and miscarriage, measured at 63 per cent and 35 per cent increased risk, respectively.
HIV/AIDS, anxiety disorders and self-harm exhibited weak associations with intimate partner violence.
Of the health outcomes examined in relation to child sexual abuse, the findings highlighted a 45 per cent increased risk of alcohol use disorder and a 35 per cent increased risk of self-harm in people who had been sexually abused as children. The associations between childhood sexual abuse and 11 additional health outcomes, such as asthma and type 2 diabetes, were found to be weak.
Dr Joht Singh Chandan, from the University of Birmingham, said: ‘Our findings reveal not only the alarming associations these forms of violence have with conditions like major depressive disorder, miscarriage, alcohol use disorders, and self-harm but also underscore the urgent need for robust preventive measures and support systems.’
The scientists said the research is a ‘pivotal shift’ in our understanding of how extensive the impact of abuse can be on a wide range of health outcomes.
Professor Emmanuela Gakidou from the University of Washington and co-lead author of the paper added: ‘While we’ve shed light on these critical health issues, our research also highlights the gaps in current knowledge and the necessity for continued investigation to fully grasp the extensive consequences of such violence. It’s imperative that we use these insights to inform policy, healthcare, and community interventions, ensuring a safer and healthier future for individuals affected by these pervasive forms of violence.’