Health Impacts of Violent Victimization

While the consequences of crime and experiences of victims are all different, there is growing evidence of the links between violent victimization and mental and physical health. Physical injuries and death are the most obvious consequences of violence, but there are more prevalent consequences that are increasingly being recognized. This fact sheet outlines some of these health impacts that may be faced by women and their children who suffer violent victimization.The focus is on intimate partner violence (IPV) and children witnessing violence, as this is where most of the literature is directed1.

Health Impacts for Women2

Some of the physical health problems associated with IPV exposure include chronic pain, disability, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders and general reductions in physical functioning/health-related life quality. Recent analyses indicate that IPV may be associated with cardiac disease.

Mental health problems associated with IPV mirror those associated with sexual assault, and include depression, anxiety disorders (especially PTSD), protracted disabling sleep disorders, phobias and panic disorder, psychosomatic disorders, and suicidal behaviour and self-harm, eating disorders, substance dependence, antisocial personality disorders, and nonaffective psychosis.

IPV is also associated with gynaecological disorders, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy complications/miscarriage, sexual dysfunction, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortion, and unwanted pregnancy.

For female victims of sexual assault, a small proportion result in physical injury. These injuries may impact reproductive health, including pregnancy and gynaecological complications (vaginal bleeding or infection, fibroids, decreased sexual desire, genital irritation, pain during intercourse, chronic pelvic pain and urinary tract infections), along with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

Health Impacts for Children

Children who witness IPV or are victims of child sexual abuse may be impaired in many domains, including mental health, physical health, education, criminal behaviour and interpersonal functioning.

Sexual abuse of girls is associated with both short- and long-term negative effects on mental health, depending on the severity, persistence, and presence of risk and protective factors, both genetic and environmental. These impacts can continue into adulthood, as studies show among adult women, there is strong evidence of significant associations between CSA and depression, PTSD, panic disorder, drug and alcohol dependence and suicide attempts.

CSA is a non-specific risk factor for both internalizing and externalizing disorders in girls and adult women; it is associated with neurobiological dysregulation in both child- and adulthood including alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the sympathetic nervous system and more recently, the immune system.

For victims of multiple forms of child maltreatment the short term consequences can include: bed-wetting, nightmares, and social withdrawal. The longer term effects can include: