Intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse associated with health effects

Published December 11, 2023

an art installation depicting bodies wrapped in yellow tape with slogans protesting against domestic violence

Photo by Mika Baumeister, Unsplash.

December 11, 2023, Seattle, WA – Exposure to intimate partner violence or childhood sexual abuse is associated with wide-ranging physical and mental health effects, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Nature Medicine. Although the findings suggest that the effects may be more extensive than previously thought, further research is needed. 

Globally, one in three ever-partnered women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and around 20% of young women and 10% of young men have experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse. However, research investigating health outcomes associated with intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse has been limited. 

 Searching through papers published from seven databases, Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou and colleagues identified the available literature on intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse and their associated health effects. They reviewed over 4,000 studies, of which 57 and 172 studies met the criteria for inclusion in relation to intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse, respectively. Using the Burden of Proof methodology (a meta-analytic approach for estimating a conservative measure of the elevated or reduced risk of a particular health outcome after exposure to a harmful or protective risk factor), they evaluated the strength of evidence connecting intimate partner violence and/or childhood sexual abuse to health outcomes, which were supported by at least three studies. 

 The authors found that exposures to intimate partner violence had a moderate association with an increased risk of major depressive disorders (63%) and an increased risk of maternal abortion and miscarriage (35%). Childhood sexual abuse was shown to be moderately associated with an increased risk of alcohol use and an increased risk of self-harm (45% and 35%, respectively). The authors indicate these findings are larger in magnitude and more extensive than previously suggested. They also identified additional potential health outcomes, including an association of maternal hypertensive disorders with intimate partner violence, during their initial literature review, but due to a scarcity of evidence, these could not be included in the meta-analysis.  

 The authors note that the studies are observational and cannot demonstrate causality and highlight that their findings are limited owing to the limited number of studies that explore these relationships. They suggest that their research demonstrates the wide-ranging health effects of intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse but emphasize the need for further research to strengthen the evidence base. 

For media interviews with the authors, journalists can contact [email protected]. 


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