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Media Release 4 March 2023

Women’s Refuge backs latest research from University of Auckland linking intimate partner violence to long-term mental and physical health outcomes

Women’s Refuge wholeheartedly supports the findings of new research released today from the University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau. This comprehensive study of more than 1400 Aotearoa women concludes that women who have experienced intimate partner violence are almost three times as likely to have a diagnosed mental health condition and almost twice as likely to have a chronic illness, compared with those who have not experienced intimate partner violence.

“We thank Associate Professor Janet Fanslow, the key author of the research, for confirming this connection, something we know and see on a daily basis in our work”, say Dr Ang Jury ONZM, Chief Executive, Women’s Refuge.

The research looked at five different types of intimate partner violence including exposure to physical violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, controlling behaviour and economic abuse, finding that experiencing these types of abuse led to negative long-term outcomes for mental and physical health.

“We have seen this play out in a countless number of women’s lives. If you are living in a situation that is dominated by coercion and control, constantly needing to be at high alert, and never knowing what will happen next, there are inevitably going to be serious impacts on your well-being. Human beings are simply not built to withstand this type of situation for sustained periods of time.”

The research also demonstrates that the 11 percent of women surveyed who had experienced four or five types of abuse were four times more likely to have a diagnosed mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The same group had double the risk of a chronic health problem, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, or asthma, compared with women who did not experience violence.

“This mirrors with what we see in our high-risk clients, many of which who have experienced feelings of not knowing if they will even survive another day. It is a complex process to support them to establish a violence-free life, and it is not unusual for us to see extreme depression, significant health problems, and issues with drugs or alcohol as women self-medicate to deal with their lives”.

Dr Fanslow says that, given these findings, it is critical that healthcare professionals are equipped with the necessary tools and training to enable them to identify signs of abuse displayed by patients and enable them to make appropriate referrals to specialist services.

“We support the findings of this study 100% and conclusions suggesting everyone has a part to play in combating this destructive social problem. If we want to reduce the appalling rates of family violence in Aotearoa, we need to approach it from every angle we can, including health, education and direct intervention.”

“Abuse over the long-term can devastate virtually every aspect of someone’s life. If we can reach those who are in these situations earlier, we have a far better chance of lessening the impact the abuse will have on someone’s future.”

“It would be incredible if this research leads to different agencies like health, renewing their work in looking for these signs and helping to ensure a brighter future for so many in Aotearoa.”

Media Enquiries:
Susan Barker
Communications, Marketing and Fundraising Manager
027 403 5155

Further info:
• Read Association between Women’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Self-reported health outcomes in New Zealand. JAMA Network Open