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The root of Solomons seale when applied, taketh away in one or two nights, any bruise, blacke or blue spots gotton by falls or womens wilfulnesse, in stumbling upon their hasty husbands fists, or such like.

John Gerard (1545–1612)

Intimate partner (or domestic) violence is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship’. On the other hand, abuse can be of an elderly parent by the children or of some other member of the household to another member. It usually results from abuse and/or imbalance of power in close relationships. One person in the relationship consistently dominates or threatens with power and the abused victim gradually gives over more power.

A major problem in dealing with intimate partner violence (IPV) is that it is hidden and the victims are reluctant to divulge the cause of their injuries when visiting medical practitioners.

Key facts and checkpoints1

  • Between one-quarter and one-third of relationships experience violence at some time.

  • In 90–95% of cases the victims are women.

  • Ten per cent of women have been violently assaulted in the last year.

  • Twenty-two per cent of homicides in Queensland in 1982–87 were spouse murders.

  • In violent families with children, 90% of children witness the violence and 50% of children are victims of violence.

  • Four per cent of relationships will experience chronic domestic violence (in 20% this occurs before marriage).

  • Less than 20% of those who abuse their spouse abuse some other person.2

  • Alcohol is a factor in 50% of IPV incidents (i.e. not the sole cause; it does make violence easier, and is used as an excuse). Other factors include work stress/pressure, financial stress and illness. However, there are no excuses for domestic violence.

  • Pregnancy is a high-risk time for victims of domestic battering.

  • Fifty per cent of people know someone affected by IPV, but one-third refuse to speak about it or get involved in any way because they regard it as a ‘private matter’.

  • It is estimated that between 65% and 75% of women killed by abusive partners are killed while leaving or after leaving the relationship.3

  • One in five people think that domestic violence is acceptable in certain circumstances.

We usually think of domestic violence in terms of physical violence but it can take many forms.4 These include:

  • physical abuse

  • psychological abuse

  • economic abuse

  • social abuse (e.g. isolation)

  • sexual abuse

Possible presentations3

  • Physical injuries: usually bruising caused by punching, kicking or biting; also fractures, burns, genital trauma

  • Physical symptoms (e.g. back pain, headache, abdominal pain, chronic diarrhoea, vague symptoms, sexual dysfunction, anxiety)

  • Sleeping and eating disorders

  • Psychological problems (in both the woman and her children, e.g. depression, somatiform disorders, anxiety disorders, stress syndrome, including panic attacks)

  • Pregnancy and childbirth ...

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