Violence against women hurts us all

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

The arrest in recent weeks of more than 30 fugitives wanted in Harris County on domestic violence charges should bring home the fact that intimate partner violence is widespread. Last year, and the year before, the Harris County District Attorney’s office filed more than 10,500 cases of domestic violence. Thirty people were killed in cases of domestic violence in the county, the most in the state.

Violence against women is a pervasive and widespread plague on our society – one that crosses geographic, economic and racial lines. In the United States alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.3 million women each year are victims of physical violence at the hands of their partners; one in four will be physically assaulted by a boyfriend or husband in her lifetime. Texas is no exception to this problem.

While men also are victims of family violence, women overwhelmingly are the targets. In 2012, which saw nearly 200,000 instances of family violence, 114 women were killed by their partner in the Lone Star State.

These already alarming statistics are even more daunting when sexual assault and psychological abuse are considered. About 10 percent of women will be raped by an intimate partner and many more will experience severe psychological abuse.

So why should you care about violence against women? Chances are, someone close to you has been, is or will be a victim.

This is not something that only happens to “other people” or in “those families.” Whether aware of it or not, a woman close to you is experiencing violence: be this your daughter, sister, friend, cousin or co-worker.

The consequences of violence against women – in terms of mental, physical and social health – are severe and often chronic. Women and girls in violent relationships are at heightened risk of experiencing psychological and behavioral problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to the obvious bruises, broken bones and unintentional pregnancies, abused women are vulnerable to a host of physical health complaints due to stress on their immune system and lack of receiving timely medical attention.

The high prevalence and severe consequences of partner violence also results in substantial economic costs for health care and lost productivity, with an estimated yearly cost approaching $6 billion.

But it’s more than that. For every woman unable to hold down a job because her husband beats her, for every girl raped by her boyfriend and forced to become pregnant, for every child who witnesses his or her parents hit each other, we lose as a society.

Violence against women is not an act against an individual woman; it is an attack against us all – to our country, to our community, to our loved ones, and to our pocketbooks.

As evidenced at our state’s 83rd legislative session, Texas has made impressive strides in addressing violence against women, including continuing funding of more than $50 million for victims of family violence, restoring $2.5 million in funding for the Battering Intervention Prevention Program and creating a task force to recommend improvements to health care services for women in violent relationships.

However, the solution cannot all rest with legislation. Health care professionals should integrate family violence screening into their interactions with patients. Simultaneously, cities and communities must support family violence services so that women identified as in a violent relationship have access to resources.

Finally, schools of all grade levels should teach healthy relationships to the same degree they teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is our responsibility. It is that important.

Temple is a licensed psychologist and associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He was recently appointed vice chairman of the Texas Task Force on Domestic Violence.

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