Ways out of violence

Consequences of domestic violence

Domestic violence impacts each affected person differently depending on protective and risk factors. The extent to which domestic violence has health, socioeconomic, and intergenerational consequences depend on many conditions (e.g., gender, timing of first experience of violence). Research on Trauma increasingly shows that social support and interpersonal integration (vs. isolation) of victims are important factors that influence the processing of distressing experiences. Furthermore, the possibility to communicate experiences and being recognized as a person affected by violence by the close environment and society are crucial. In the context of domestic violence, these factors also have a significant impact on the severity of the consequences.

The health effects of domestic violence often go unnoticed and are not related to the violence by others. Even when the violence is no longer acute, many of those affected continue to suffer from the consequences for a long time. This is often associated with difficulties in personal, family, social, educational, professional or other important areas of life.

Various consequences of domestic violence

Physical consequences

Short-term health consequences following physical and sexual violence include external and internal injuries. In some cases, the physical injury consequences remain for a lifetime. Chronic pain is described as a relevant health consequence of violence. Furthermore, a relation between domestic and sexualized violence has been documented especially for the following chronic diseases: Gastrointestinal conditions, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and eating disorders. Psychosomatic conditions such as chronic pain, nausea, cardiological problems and sleep disorders are caused by the persistent level of arousal increased by anxiety and stress. Physical and sexual violence result in gynaecological problems, such as menstrual disorders, bleeding, unexplained lower abdominal pain and sexually transmitted infections. Links to cancers such as cervical cancer and precancerous lesions have also been found. The effects on pregnancy and childbirth are particularly severe: unwanted pregnancies, complications during pregnancy, increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth, and an increased risk of postpartum depression. In the worst cases, the violence can lead to Death. The risk of homicide is especially high in the stage of separation.

Psychological consequences

The loss of a sense of autonomy over one’s own life and body is a serious psychological consequence of the experienced violence. The devaluing attitude of the perpetrator impairs self-esteem and self-confidence and can even lead to a loss of self-respect. Affected persons suffer from feelings of shame and guilt, feel worthless or stigmatized. International studies show that the risk of developing depression is increased 3.3-fold, as is the risk of suicide. In terms of health effects, psychological violence has been shown to be just as relevant to depression as physical violence. The risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is 2.5 – 3 times higher, and after repeated and prolonged exposure to violence, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) also can occur.

Other psychological consequences are: a depressive state, anxiety and panic attacks, sleeping disorders, eating disorders and poor concentration. As part of a harmful survival strategy, higher alcohol, medication and drug consumption and a significantly increased tobacco consumption have been found. Self-harming behaviour can also occur as a result of domestic violence. Neglect and domestic or sexualized violence experiences in early childhood have particularly serious consequences on trust and self-esteem. The resulting developmental or attachment disorders often have repercussions throughout the entire course of life. Violence inflicted by a partner in adulthood then leads to retraumatization. Often, painful experiences from early childhood resurface. These have a different effect on the psyche and the body than violence first experienced in adulthood.

Social consequences

Specific controlling behaviour by a partner leads to women* being isolated from close relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc. The loss of supportive contacts prevents them from sharing their experiences of the domestic situation. The loss of supportive contacts isolates them, the exchange about the experience of the domestic situation is prevented. The social consequences of separation or divorce after domestic violence like leaving the familiar environment and the relationships associated with it, also has an effect on the women*.

Economic consequences

Economic and material consequences can be both short-term and long-term. Often, health and economic consequences intertwine here: if people experience domestic violence early in their lives, this can for example lead to difficulties with concentration, which later on can have an impact on schooling and professional opportunities. Also, when women* experience violence in adulthood, lower resilience, declining work performance, and frequent sick leave with high absenteeism from work can occur. The latter could even lead to loss of job. The physical and psychological stress can be so severe that only limited or no working capacity is possible. In the case of separation and divorce – especially in the case where children are involved – people forego both their rightful share of joint property or even their own property, alimony, apportionment of assets and liabilities or damage payments out of fear of further attacks. In addition, the risk of being affected by homelessness or poverty is significantly increased for women* affected by violence.

Consequences for children and intergenerational consequences

Domestic violence continues to have an impact on following generations. Children who witness domestic violence learn problematic behavioural and gender role patterns. They often feel partly responsible for the violent arguments in the family, guilty, helpless, left alone or angry. They try to intervene, to protect the mother, and in the process may experience direct violence themselves. If children perceive family violence as normal, they may be at increased risk of later experiencing violence or becoming violent themselves. Recognizing and exiting intergenerational violence thus becomes increasingly difficult.

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