Domestic Violence – A Public Health Issue

Nov 25, 2013, 03:23 PM

In the first of our series of podcasts for the 16 Days of Action on domestic violence, PHE Director for Health Inequality and Impact Dr Annmarie Connolly talks about what domestic violence means from a public health point of view.

Transcript: Public Health is defined by the Faculty of Public Health as ‘The science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organized efforts of society”

Public health works across three domains of practice: Health Improvement Improving services Health Protection

Public Health is delivered by a wide range of professionals, there are specialist public health consultants and practitioners working in teams in Local Authorities, supporting clinical commissioning groups, in NHS England, the Department of Health and of course in Public Health England.

But much of the work of public health is done by teachers, nurses, health visitors, children centre staff, physiotherapists, environmental health officers, general practitioners and hospital doctors, leisure centre professionals and a wide range of others, including thousands of volunteers supporting the third sector.

At its core public health is about improving the health of the population, sometimes through identifying threats and responding, such as leading the response to the threat of Pandemic Flu, sometimes through legislation like the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars or through influencing planning and licencing decisions to protect the health of local people, sometimes through national programmes to identify early disease and disease risk factors like cancer screening and NHS Health Checks programme. Public health can work in many ways but at its root is a focus on taking a whole system approach to addressing the things that act as barriers to individuals reaching their potential.

Anyone who has ever been touched by domestic violence or abuse, can tell you about it’s damaging affect in the short, medium and long term, it is clearly something that acts as a barrier to achieving individual potential and a long and happy life, and therefore clearly an area where the public health system should be looking to act.

The WHO state that, on average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, many more will have experienced emotional and financial abuse on top of this 30%.

Estimates in England and Wales suggest that approximately 1.2 million women and girls, and about 800,000 men and boys aged 16 to 65yrs were victims of domestic violence in 11/12 . The same estimates predict that 31% of women and 18% of men have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16yrs, this amounts to 5 million women and 2.9 million men across England and Wales. Domestic violence can affect anyone, at any point in the life course, and although there are inequalities, domestic violence affects people both in employment and unemployment, across the socio-economic divide. 1.6% of older people aged over 65yrs reported abuse in the past year from a family member, close friend or a care worker. 40% of the abuse was perpetrated by a partner and 43% by another family member .

At the other end of the spectrum, research has found that one in six girls aged 13 to 17y reported some form of severe domestic violence inflected on them by a partner .

Research has also found higher rates of domestic violence an abuse affecting the disabled, some ethnic minorities groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans populations.

We also know that over a third of domestic violence starts or gets worse when a woman is pregnant, and one in five midwives know that at least one of her expectant mothers is a victim of domestic violence . And there is a growing body of evidence of the life long negative affects of domestic violence on children.

The impacts of domestic violence are physical, emotional and mental, and in some cases it can be fa...