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© 2000 Reuters Limited -- Health News -- By, Alan Mozes

Half of all women report violent relationships

NEW YORK, Apr 17, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- More than half of all American women have experienced some sort of violence in their intimate relationships, including physical abuse or psychological battering, according to a new study.

``I was expecting half the numbers we found, and the thing that was clearly the most surprising to us was the large proportion of women who had ever experienced violence,'' said study co-author Dr. Ann Coker of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Between February, 1997 and December, 1998, Coker and colleagues interviewed over 1,400 women between the ages of 18 and 65. The women had been in a relationship for at least 3 months and were seeking medical attention at two clinics associated with the university, according to a report in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Overall, 55% of the women had experienced relationship violence, including physical or sexual violence (77%) and nonphysical abuse (23%).

Women who had experienced a violent relationship in the past were more likely to experience violence in their current or most recent relationship. A male partner's alcohol and drug use, as well as unemployment in either partner was associated with violence. Women who grew up in families in which a father physically or emotionally abused their mother were at higher risks of experiencing intimate partner violence, according to the report.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Coker pointed out that the study was unique because it focused on a broader spectrum of abuse than most studies on relationship violence. ``The majority of papers look at the women who are hit and beaten by their partners, and not at the dynamic of the relationship -- and that's what looking at battering is designed to do,'' she noted.

The women were given scenarios of psychological abuse so that the researchers were able to screen for forms of abuse that are not as clear as a bruise or black eye. The women were asked to strongly agree or disagree with statements such as 'He scares me without laying a hand on me' or 'He has a look that goes straight through me.' ``These were not just put-downs -- this was much more dramatic than that,'' Coker said.

Women at risk for abuse need to seek appropriate help and care. ``We're advocating that physicians or nurse practitioners should universally screen women for partner violence,'' she said. ``And we'd like to do it in a primary care setting because in that setting they're not going specifically for the violence -- as they do in an hospital setting -- so that situation may not be as stressful.''

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2000;90;553-559.