Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Domestic abuse affects almost one fifth of men, research suggests

Almost one third of people attending a doctors' practice in Galway, Ireland, have experienced domestic violence, with almost 20 per cent of men affected by abuse in the home, new research has shown, writes Dr Muiris Houston, Medical Correspondent of The Irish Times (premium content). The study also found a high rate of domestic abuse among pregnant women. Six per cent of patients currently suffer abuse.

Dr Caitriona Waters, a GP registrar with the Galway General Practitioner Training Scheme, surveyed 200 patients at a Galway city practice last August.

Overall, some 31.5 per cent of the men and women had experienced domestic violence in the past, while 6 per cent of patients reported they were current victims of abuse, Dr Houston reports. Of the 18 pregnant women studied, three were experiencing domestic violence at the time.The study, which is the first to assess the prevalence of domestic violence among men in a general practice setting in the Republic, found that one in five men had a history of abuse in the home. Some 39 per cent of women who responded had experienced domestic violence in the past.

"I was particularly interested in looking at male victims of domestic violence when I undertook this research," Dr Waters said."The figure of 18.2 per cent may be an underestimate. There are probably more men out there experiencing domestic abuse, but it is difficult for them to volunteer this information. In addition, males do not attend GPs as frequently as female patients."

Of those who have experienced domestic abuse in the past, 68 per cent said they had been psychologically or emotionally abused. Verbal and physical abuse each occurred in more than half of cases.Some 28 per cent had experienced social abuse, in which the victim is dominated or criticised in public. Almost one in five victims had been sexually abused, while 13 per cent had suffered economic abuse in which access to money and the freedom to spend was controlled by the abuser.

Just 20 per cent of those who had experienced abuse in the past had disclosed the fact to a GP, although three in four had told someone close to them of their predicament.Among the reasons for not disclosing domestic violence to medical professionals were fears of the consequences for their children as well as a sense of shame and embarrassment.

Commenting on Dr Water's study, Prof Tom O'Dowd, professor of primary care and public health at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of a 2002 study that found a 40 per cent prevalence of domestic violence among women in the Republic, said: "This is an important study. It is sad but unsurprising that pregnant women are so highly represented."The figure for male domestic violence is a little lower than that emerging from research currently under way in our own practice."

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