Penn study shows that most battered women know their attackers and many assaults occur in public

December 14, 1999

Researchers recommend crisis interventions within Emergency Departments and long-term programs in local communities.

(Philadelphia, PA) -- According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, more than 50 percent of violently assaulted women were attacked by "non-intimates"- defined as individuals other than sexual partners. Most of these women said they knew or were at least acquainted with their attackers -- either as neighbors or family members -- and half of them were identified as other women. Additionally, the majority of these victims were beaten in public with other persons present. These findings are published in the December 16, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Between 1996 and 1997, researchers in three urban Emergency Departments interviewed 405 women who sought treatment for their attack-related injuries and 520 women (controls) who entered the ED for typical health-related concerns. All of the women were asked about the nature of their visit, socioeconomic factors, neighborhoods, and financial and social support. The battered women gave additional information such as who was responsible for the attack and whether others were present.

"We found that the majority of all 925 women interviewed reported having a current or past abusive intimate partner indicating a tremendous prevalence of domestic violence in this community," says Jeane Ann Grisso, MD, professor of medicine and principal investigator on the study.

Although slightly more women than men were reported as perpetrators of non-intimate violence, men, overall were involved in more than 75 percent of all violent attacks against women. (ie. those involving non-intimate violence and domestic abuse.)

This study also showed that most female victims of domestic abuse had been beaten with their male partners' fists or household objects; 12 percent had been stabbed and 1 had been shot. The most cited reasons reported for the violence were the partner's temper, jealousy or drug or alcohol use.

Sexual partners who assaulted women had significant drug and alcohol abuse problems and prior arrest records, which, Grisso says, are traits that women should view as warning signs of potentially dangerous relationships. Although drug tests could not be conducted on attackers, urine toxicology test results demonstrated that 35 percent of the victims themselves tested positive for cocaine use. "Substance abuse was the single most important risk factor for the violent injuries," says Grisso.

Neighborhood characteristics were examined as elements that may put a woman in jeopardy of both intimate and non-intimate violence. "We tracked neighborhood factors and characteristics of perpetrators and victims to determine risk factors for such violent behavior against women," says Grisso. They concluded that women were at increased risk for any type of violence if they lived in neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty and low levels of education.

Based on the study's findings, Grisso recommends implementing community interventions in neighborhoods that are considered "at-risk" for increased violent behavior among the residents. "Community policing courts and other community-based programs should be developed to address public disorder and street violence," she says.

Additionally, Elizabeth Datner, MD, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine, says that battered women need more peer counseling, advocacy, and follow-up services made available to them through Emergency Departments. "Community programs could provide Emergency Departments with trained advocates to guide victims through the immediate crisis, provide follow-up guidance, and facilitate linkage with other criminal justice and social service agencies," Datner adds.
Editor's note: To reach Dr. Grisso for comment, please call 215-898-0947 or contact Sue Montgomery in the Public Affairs office at 215-349-5657.

Contact: Sue Montgomery
(215) 349-5657

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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