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DHS news release

March 29, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contact: Mel Kohn, M.D. (503) 731-4023
Note: Additional experts willing to speak on this issue are listed at end of news release

Survey shows intimate partner violence is a major public health problem

Ten percent of Oregon women ages 20 to 55 years have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their intimate partner during the past five years, a new state Department of Human Services (DHS) report reveals.

"Intimate partner violence is a significant public health problem," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in DHS. "It takes a physical and emotional toll on the women who are harmed and can have a profound negative affect on children who witness these acts of violence. It undermines the social fabric of our communities."

The report is based on responses of 2,962 Oregon women to questions about violence they experienced within the previous five years or the past 12 months. The prevalence of violence is likely higher than the report shows, since women were not questioned about their experience over a lifetime, Kohn said.

Some of the findings:

  • At least one in 10 Oregon women ages 20 to 55 — or more than 85,000 — have experienced intimate partner violence in the past five years. Almost 30,000 women, or three percent, experienced it in the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • Intimate partner violence results in serious physical injury. Thirteen percent of women physically assaulted by an intimate partner and 41 percent of those sexually assaulted sustained serious injuries including broken bones, internal injuries, head injuries, and lacerations or knife wounds.
  • Less than two-fifths of seriously injured women received medical care for their injuries.
  • Of the seriously injured women who sought medical care, about three-fourths of physical assault victims and just over 50 percent of sexual assault victims disclosed the source of their injuries to medical personnel.
  • Women who experienced intimate partner violence in the past five years reported poorer mental and physical health than women who did not. They also experienced higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug use.
  • Children witnessed 33 percent of intimate partner physical assaults and 20 percent of intimate partner sexual assaults.
"The impact of intimate partner violence extends beyond immediate physical injuries,” said Kohn. “Many Oregon women suffer long-term consequences of past abuse. Clinicians and mental health professionals are uniquely positioned to identify intimate partner violence and provide appropriate services and referrals."

Kohn said that medical providers are an important part of the solution, but comprehensive, vigorous community involvement is also needed. "This is a complex, daunting problem but its magnitude and impact demands that we all rise to the challenge and help confront it," he said.

The report is on the Web or can be obtained by calling (503)-731-4024.

Additional media contacts:

  • Services for women and children in crisis — Kris Billhardt, Executive Director, Volunteers of America Home Free, (503) 771-5503
  • Importance of provider screening — Christina Nicolaidis, M.D., M.P.H., Oregon Health & Science University, call OHSU media relations at (503) 494-8231
  • Criminal justice response — Attorney General Hardy Myers, (503) 378-6002