Adverse mental health outcomes associated with emotional abuse in young rural South African women: a cross-sectional study

J Interpers Violence. 2012 Mar;27(5):862-80. doi: 10.1177/0886260511423247. Epub 2011 Oct 10.


There is a lack of data on the prevalence of emotional abuse in youth. The aim of this study was thus to estimate the prevalence of emotional abuse in intimate partnerships among young women in rural South Africa and to measure the association between lifetime experience of emotional abuse (with and without the combined experience of physical and/or sexual abuse) and adverse health outcomes. Between 2002 and 2003, young women from 70 villages were recruited to participate in the cluster randomized controlled trial of an HIV behavioral intervention, Stepping Stones. Data was obtained through the administration of a questionnaire at baseline. Of the 1,293 women who had ever been partnered, 189 (14.6%) had experienced only emotional abuse in their lifetimes. Three hundred sixty-six women (28.3%) experienced emotional abuse with physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetimes, and one hundred forty-four women (11.1%) experienced physical and/or sexual abuse without emotional abuse. Hazardous drinking was associated with the experience of physical and/or sexual abuse, with (OR 6.0, 95% CI [1.0, 36.6]) and without emotional abuse (OR 5.8, 95% CI [1.1, 29.4]). Illicit drug use (OR 5.6, 95% CI [2.4, 12.6]), having depressive symptoms (OR 2.9, 95% CI [1.2, 4.2]), having psychological distress (OR 1.9, 95% CI [1.4, 2.6]), and suicidality (OR 79.0, 95% CI [17.3, 359.6]) was associated with the experience of emotional abuse with physical and/or sexual abuse. Suicidality was also strongly associated with having experienced emotional abuse alone (OR 79.5, 95% CI [16.7, 377.4]). This study showed that emotionally abused young women had a greater risk of suicidality than those experiencing no abuse and that the combined experience of emotional with physical and/or sexual abuse was strongly associated with poor mental health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Battered Women / psychology*
  • Battered Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Logistic Models
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Rural Population
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology*
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Young Adult