Objective: To determine if women who experience low-severity violence differ in numbers of physical symptoms, psychological distress, or substance abuse from women who have never been abused and from women who experience high-severity violence.
Design: Cross-sectional, self-administered, anonymous survey.
Setting: Four community-based, primary care, internal medicine practices.
Patients: Survey respondents were 1,931 women aged 18 years or older. SURVEY DESIGN: Survey included questions on violence; a checklist of 22 physical symptoms; the Symptom Checklist-22 (SCL-22) to measure depression, anxiety, somatization, and self-esteem; CAGE questions for alcohol use; and questions about past medical history. Low-severity violence patients had been "pushed or grabbed" or had someone "threaten to hurt them or someone they love" in the year prior to presentation. High-severity violence patients had been hit, slapped, kicked, burned, choked, or threatened or hurt with a weapon.
Main results: Of the 1,931 women, 47 met criteria for current low-severity violence without prior abuse, and 79 met criteria for current high-severity violence without prior abuse, and 1,257 had never experienced violence. The remaining patients reported either childhood violence or past adult abuse. When adjusted for socioeconomic characteristics, the number of physical symptoms increased with increasing severity of violence (4.3 for no violence, 5.3 for low-severity violence, 6.4 for high-severity violence, p < .0001). Psychological distress also increased with increasing severity of violence (mean total SCL22 scores 32.6 for no violence, 35.7 for low-severity violence, 39.5 for high-severity violence, p < .0001). Women with any current violence were more likely to have a history of substance abuse (prevalence ratio [PR] 1.8 for low-severity, 1.9 for high-severity violence) and to have a substance-abusing partner (PR 2.4 for both violence groups).
Conclusions: In this study, even low-severity violence was associated with physical and psychological health problems in women. The data suggest a dose-response relation between the severity of violence and the degree of physical and psychological distress.