WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About a quarter of U.S. women suffer domestic violence, U.S. health officials reported on Thursday, with ongoing health problems that one activist likened to the effects of living in a war zone.
Some men also experience domestic violence, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found.
The CDC said 23.6 percent of women and 11.5 percent of men reported being a victim of what it called “intimate partner violence” at some time in their lives.
The CDC defined this as threatened, attempted or completed physical or sexual violence or emotional abuse by a spouse, former spouse, current or former boyfriend or girlfriend or a dating partner. The CDC estimates that 1,200 women are killed and 2 million injured in domestic violence annually.
Many of these women have other long-term health risks and problems, the CDC said.
“It confirms ... that living in a dangerous and stressful environment has long-term health impacts. It’s like living in a war zone,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an advocacy group.
More than 70,000 people in 16 U.S. states and two territories — Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — responded to the CDC survey in 2005.
Black women were more likely to report domestic violence than whites or Hispanics, but it was most frequent among multiracial, American Indian and Alaska native women.
Women of all income and education levels suffer such abuse, although it was more frequent among the poorest and those who attended but did not graduate from college.
“Perhaps one of the factors at play here is the high prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, and dating violence,” Michele Black, a CDC epidemiologist who helped write the agency’s report, said in a telephone interview.
Black said she could not say whether domestic violence rates were rising. The results were comparable with those of a 1995 government survey that found that 24.8 percent of women and 7.6 percent of men reported suffering domestic violence.
The CDC said women who suffer domestic violence are three times as likely to engage in risky sex and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than other women.
They are also twice as likely to report that their activities are limited by physical, mental or emotional problems and 50 percent more likely to use a cane, wheelchair or other disability equipment, the CDC survey found.
These women also were 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, 70 percent more likely to have heart disease or arthritis and 60 percent more likely to have asthma.
Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy for the Family Violence Prevention Fund advocacy group, said the CDC figures broadly fit other assessments that about a quarter to a third of U.S. women experience domestic violence.
Stewart endorsed the CDC’s call for doctors to ask women about possible domestic violence if they are showing signs of stress or other symptoms indicating possible violence.
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Alan Elsner)
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