Interpersonal Violence Leads To More Use Of Health Services; Range Of Problems Arises In Future Years, Researchers Find

September 05, 1997

Victims of rape and other interpersonal violence are more likely than non-victims to develop health problems and to increase their use of health care services in future years, behavioral health researchers have found.

Writing in the current issue of Behavioral Medicine, Dr. Heidi Resnick, Dr. Dean Kilpatrick and Dr. Ron Acierno of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, analyzed the findings of earlier studies on the prevalence and after-effects of rape, attempted rape and other sexual and physical assaults.

Their analysis indicated that over the succeeding years, assault victims more frequently incurred health problems ranging from psychological problems and increased substance abuse to physical injuries that lead to chronic conditions. They report that the average use of health care increased 18 percent the first year after a rape, 56 percent the second year, and 31 percent the third year.

The authors report their findings in a series of three articles examining the prevalence of interpersonal violence, its impact on physical and mental health and how clinicians can help diagnose and treat its victims. The authors note that although previous studies show from 3 percent to 15 percent of women are rape victims, one survey of physicians found that two-thirds of them said they had not seen a rape victim during the previous year.

Because most victims of interpersonal violence remain undetected by health practitioners, the authors recommend that most general medical assessments include a brief trauma screening. Guidelines for such screenings were issued in 1992 by the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs.

Given the increased number of medical problems following interpersonal violence, the authors note that early identification of victims would make it more likely that they would receive proper treatment and avoid unnecessary use of health care facilities.

The research was supported by the Interagency Consortium on Violence Against Women and Violence Within the Family and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Behavioral Medicine is a quarterly journal edited and peer-reviewed by an international team of scientists who research the linkages between human behavior and health. It is published by Heldref Publications, a division of the nonprofit Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation in Washington, D.C., which publishes 43 magazines and journals in the arts and humanities, education, health care, history and political science, psychology, science, and the environment. For a copy of the current issue reporting on the health impact of interpersonal violence, call customer service: 1-800-365-9753.

Center for Advancing Health

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