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preventive health services

Partner Violence

Why is this important?

Partner abuse or violence is common in the United States and has serious physical and emotional effects on people and families. It is hard to know exactly how many people experience partner abuse because it is not always reported. However, it is thought that nearly onein three women and one in four men report experiencing partner abuse at some time during their lives.

Partner abuse injures and kills people. It also leads to many health problems. As a result of partner abuse, women can develop sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive disorders. They also can become pregnant. If a woman is already pregnant when she is abused, she is more likely to have a premature baby or a baby with low birth weight.

Women and men who experience partner violence suffer pain and can develop nervous or stomach disorders, severe headaches, and other physical problems. Partner violence leads to mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal behavior. Teens and young adults who are abused can suffer from low self-esteem or eating disorders, and can engage in risky sexual behavior.

What are the risks?

The main potential benefit of screening for partner abuse is to identify people who are being abused so they can get help. The experts found that partner violence screening can identify current or past abuse and increased risk of future abuse in women of childbearing age who do not show signs and symptoms of abuse.

The experts also found that programs and support services can reduce violence, abuse, and physical and mental harms for women who have experienced partner violence. The potential harms of partner violence screening and programs are small.

There are very few studies on how to effectively screen for and prevent partner violence against men. Very little information is also available on this issue for women who are beyond their childbearing years. We need more research in these areas.

The experts also did not find evidence that screening can help prevent abuse or reduce its harms. Although we hope screening will help people who are being hurt get help, some worry that screening can put people at greater risk and actually result in harm. It is important to learn how to screen both effectively and safely. More research is needed in all of these areas.

How can the MUSC healthcare team help you?

Your MUSC Health physician or a member of our health care team will ask you about your risk for partner violence. These questions are directed at all women of childbearing age. Since most women do not have any easy way to observe signs of abuse, we need to ask all women in this group the same screening questions.

The questions asked are similar to this: “If you have felt unsafe or threatened over a recent period of time”. If your doctor thinks you may be at risk for partner violence, you will be connected to an experienced expert in social work who can conduct a more detailed screening. The screening process is for you as a patient. The goal is help you live a safe and healthy life. When it would help you, counseling may be suggested. The counselor can help you determine if you are in an unsafe and unhealthy situation and develop a plan for you to improve your health and safety.

Frequently asked questions

How Can I tell if I am in an abusive relationship?
It can be hard to know if your relationship is headed down the wrong path. While it’s not always possible to prevent relationship violence, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

If you think your partner might be controlling or abusive, it’s important to:

  • Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t seem right, take it seriously.
  • Learn the warning signs of someone who might become controlling or violent.
  • Get help. Talk to experts in relationship violence.

If your partner is controlling or abusive, it’s better to get help now than to wait. Controlling or violent relationships usually get worse over time.

Remember: if your partner hurts you, it’s not your fault.

What is relationship violence?
Relationship violence is when one person in a relationship is abusive or controlling toward the other person — especially when they disagree about something. Relationship violence is sometimes called dating violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. In some relationships, both partners act in abusive or controlling ways.

When many people think about relationship violence, they think about physical violence, like hitting or pushing. But people can also use other methods, like threats or insults, to control their partners.

Relationship violence can include:

  • Physical violence, like pushing, hitting, or throwing things
  • Sexual violence, like forcing or trying to force someone to do something sexual
  • Threats of physical or sexual violence, which may include threatening to hurt another person or a pet
  • Emotional abuse, like embarrassing a partner or keeping that person away from family and friends

If you feel controlled by or afraid of your partner — even if you haven’t been hurt physically — trust yourself. There are people who can help you figure out what to do next.

What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?

How do I know if my relationship is healthy? In a healthy relationship:

  • Both people feel supported, respected, and valued.
  • The couple makes decisions together.
  • Both people have friends and interests outside of the relationship.
  • The couple settles disagreements with open and honest communication.
  • Both people are honest about their feelings and needs.
  • There are more good times than bad.

Healthy relationships have problems, too. But in healthy relationships, both partners take responsibility for their actions and work together to sort out problems.

What if I’m not sure if my relationship is violent?
It’s okay if you aren’t sure — you can still get help. Domestic violence agencies have counselors who are experts at helping people with questions about their relationships. You don’t even have to give your name.

If you have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or chat online with a trained advocate.