Sexual, physical abuse of wives contributes to disease, surprise pregnancies, study shows

November 22, 1999

CHAPEL HILL - An unusual new study that involved interviewing more than 6,600 men in northern India has found that close to half the men reported abusing their wives sexually or physically or both at some point.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers uncovered strong associations between wife abuse and unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and men's participation in premarital or extramarital intercourse.

A report on the study appears in the Nov. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Authors include Drs. Sandra L. Martin and Amy Ong Tsui, associate professor and professor, respectively, of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health.

"Well-trained interviewers spoke in private with 6,632 men in 1995 and 1996 and found that 17 percent reported physically but not sexually abusing their wives," Martin said. "Another 22 percent sexually abused them without physical force, and 7 percent used physical force while sexually abusing them. Men who sexually abused their wives often physically abused them."

Abuse was much more common among men who had extramarital sex than among men who did not, she said. Those who had symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases were more likely to be abusers than others without such symptoms.

"Also, unplanned pregnancies were more common among wives of abusive men, especially sexually abusive men who used force," Martin said.

Since people infected with sexually transmitted diseases are at greater risk of contracting HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- the study may help explain the increase in HIV among monogamous married women in India and in some other countries as well, Martin said. For that and other reasons, violence against women is increasingly being recognized as a global health problem.

"Studies in developed and developing countries have found that numerous women have been victims of abusive behavior and that approximately 5 percent of the healthy years of life lost to women of reproductive age in developing countries is due to violence," she said.

Previous research in Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States and Zambia has shown that between 17 percent and 60 percent of women studied have faced abuse. Percentages varied because both cultures and methods used to assess abuse differed substantially.

Martin and her colleagues recommend that health-care professionals:

The work is part of a continuing, larger study of health issues in India's Uttar Pradesh region led by Tsui, director of UNC-CH's Carolina Population Center.
The U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Population supported the research.

Note: Martin can be reached at 919-966-5973.
School of Public Health Contact: Lisa Katz, 919-966-7467.
News Services Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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