Domestic Violence Awareness: A Task for Everybody, Everywhere

By Dr. Janine A. Clayton

dr claytonThree years ago, I spoke at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Intimate Partner Violence Screening and Counseling sponsored research symposium. As I noted then, intimate partner violence—a type of domestic violence (which also includes child and elder abuse)—is one of the most important problems of our time, and one that occurs globally.

Those attending the symposium knew the time was right to focus more research on this topic. Domestic violence prevention has been a priority of the Obama administration, and screening for domestic violence is provided to most women at no cost through their health care providers—increasingly as a part of standard care. This conference focused on developing effective guidelines for health practitioners to screen for intimate partner violence and to provide patients with appropriate counseling.

During October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want to reflect on some of the research that NIH is supporting to help eliminate domestic violence and improve the health of women and their families.

Women are at higher risk

Domestic violence is physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse. Domestic violence can affect anyone, of any age, any educational level, and any income, but women are more likely to experience domestic violence than men.

Judging from the statistics, domestic violence is far from a rare event. According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate partner violence.[i] And a report from the National Academies found that the United States, compared to 16 other high-income countries, has the sixth highest rate of physical or sexual assaults on partners.[ii]

In the U.S., 22 percent of women—that’s nearly one out of every five—report that they have been kicked, beaten, hit with a hard object, burned, or subjected to some other type of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 in 10 women report they have been raped by an intimate partner; about 1 in 7 report some other form of sexual violence from an intimate partner.[iii]

Domestic violence cuts across the lines of race and ethnicity, although some groups appear to be at higher risk. Multiracial and American Indian/Alaska Native women are at greater risk for rape, stalking, and domestic violence.[iv]

A public health problem

Women can suffer serious injury and even death from domestic violence. They are also more likely to suffer from chronic conditions as a result of the abuse. These conditions include chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, psychosomatic symptoms, obesity, substance abuse, depression, and eating disorders. Women who are in abusive relationships are at increased risk of an unplanned pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

My colleagues at HHS have a lot of helpful information and links for people who want to know more about violence against women or who need resources for themselves or a friend. That information, in both English and Spanish, is at

NIH research focus

Violence against women, including intimate partner violence, is a major research area at NIH. Researchers or the general public can use the Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) to find out exactly how NIH directs its research dollars within this area.

In fiscal year 2015, according to RePORT, a variety of NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) funded 112 projects, totaling about $28.4 million, to explore the health effects of violence against women on victims and their families. Projects also included research on violence prevention and intervention strategies. Current projects are taking place not only in the United States but also in countries such as Liberia, Uganda, and India.

ORWH works with all of the ICs on this issue. In particular, we team with the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research to coordinate NIH research on violence against women. ORWH also works with the NIH Office of AIDS Research on domestic violence as a risk factor for developing an HIV infection. Additionally, we contribute to a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to reduce gun violence. The FOA, Research on the Health Determinants and Consequences of Violence and its Prevention, Particularly Firearm Violence, includes domestic violence as one area of investigation.

ORWH is launching new resources for domestic violence awareness in partnership with The NIH Civil Program, our in-house program to avert workplace violence through sound policies and education. The program has a variety of resources, including a guide for NIH employees on domestic violence (PDF).

Hearing from individuals who have experienced domestic violence reminds me of the stunning physical and emotional injuries that some women suffer. I am committed—and I hope you are, too—to working to put an end to this problem.


[i] World Health Organization. (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and nonpartner sexual violence.

[ii] Woolf, S. H., & Aron, L. (Eds.). Panel on Understanding Cross-National Health Differences Among High-Income Countries; Committee on Population; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council. (2013). U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

[iii] Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Basile, K., Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Merrick, M. T. (2014). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. Surveillance Summaries, 63(SS08), 1–18.

[iv] Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Basile, K., Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Merrick, M. T. (2014). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. Surveillance Summaries, 63(SS08), 1–18.