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RESEARCH

Grim Details About Battered Women

Illustration by Frances Jetter

A recent study of women
in
three West Philadelphia hospital emergency rooms provides a disturbing window into the lives of battered women and their partners and acquaintances. The study of 925 women—405 of whom were seeking treatment for attack-related injuries, while the 520 “control subjects” were there for other health concerns —was carried out by a research team at Penn’s Medical Center led by Dr. Jeane Ann Grisso, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology.
    The researchers, who published their findings in the Dec. 16, 1999, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that:
Fifty-three percent of violently assaulted women had been attacked by someone other than their partners, though most of them knew or were acquainted with their attackers and a majority were beaten in public.
Men who battered their female partners were much more likely to use cocaine than the men who were partners of control subjects. (“The largest factors by far” linking a woman to a violent attack by her intimate partner “were not her own characteristics but those of her intimate partners,” noted Grisso, and substance abuse “was the single most important risk factor for the violent injuries.”)
While men were involved in 76 percent of all violent attacks against women, among those who inflicted violent injuries to someone other than their partner, slightly more women than men were perpetrators.
Thirty-five percent of all the women studied, including the majority not reporting a violent assault, tested positive for cocaine—a finding that, as Grisso noted, “sort of goes against the common perception that the crack epidemic is over.”
Most women who suffered domestic abuse had been beaten with their male partner’s fists or a household object; 12 percent had been stabbed and one had been shot.
   
Approximately 90 percent of the women in the study were African-American, and the authors noted that while the death-rate from violent acts is “much higher among black women than among white women in the United States, little is known about the nature” and context of those violent acts. As Grisso pointed out: “Most studies that look at violence to women only look at domestic violence—
violence perpetrated by a current or former partner. We looked at all the kinds of violence or interpersonal injuries that occurred to women.” And the fact that a majority of all 925 women (including the control segment) reported having a “current or past abusive intimate partner,” she noted, indicates a “tremendous prevalence of domestic violence in this community.”

    In fact, she added, “the highest proportion of women who reported having a past abusive partner was among the control women,” who were not seeking treatment for a violent injury. “That was around 56 percent,” she explained. “What that means is that the women have a 50-50 chance of ending up in an abusive relationship in our [West Philadelphia] community.”


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