Domestic abuse and your physical health
45% of women survivors of domestic abuse responding to the Crime Survey of England and Wales 2012/13 reported mental or emotional problems as an effect of the abuse.
Domestic abuse has a considerable impact on your health and well-being, and that of your children. The direct and immediate physical effects of domestic violence include injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, lost teeth and hair, miscarriage, stillbirth and other complications of pregnancy.
The results of domestic violence can also be long-term and may cause or worsen, chronic health problems of various kinds, including asthma, epilepsy, digestive problems, migraine, hypertension, and skin disorders. Domestic abuse also has an enormous effect on your mental health, and may lead to increased use of alcohol, drugs and other substances. (See Domestic abuse and your mental health)
The health of your children is also likely to have been seriously affected from witnessing abuse directed at you, and also in many cases from abuse which they themselves may have suffered. (See Children and domestic abuse)
As a result of domestic violence, you may need medical treatment both immediately and in the long-term. If you have been injured, you should try to have it treated straight away. You could go to your GP or to an NHS Walk-in Centre, or to an Accident and Emergency Department or Minor Injuries Unit at your local hospital.
Do tell them how the injury occurred and ask them to record it – you may need this evidence later, if you are involved in court proceedings (for example, if you make an application for an injunction) if there is a contact or residence dispute over your children, or if your abuser is prosecuted for a criminal offence).
Health services and GP’s will photograph injuries, with your permission, and if they are signed and dated, they are often very useful additional evidence in court.
Tell the doctor or nurse if you think you may be pregnant also. In this case, you may need to be examined by a midwife to ensure that the baby has not been affected by the violence. Domestic abuse often starts or gets worse during pregnancy, and it has been identified as a prime cause of miscarriage and still-birth, and of maternal deaths during or after childbirth.
The response that you get from your GP, health visitor or midwife sadly is sometimes not very helpful. It often depends on the individual, and whether he/she has had appropriate training, and is backed up by managers and colleagues who take a consistent approach to domestic violence and abuse.
This involvement has been supported by the circulation of government publications and guidelines.
If you have been raped or have experienced sexual abuse, try to get yourself to somewhere that feels safe. See if a friend or someone you trust can be with you and talk to them about what has happened. If you don’t feel like talking to a friend or family member yet, contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation or call their free helpline on 0808 8029999 12am – 2.30pm/7pm – 9.30pm
If you need urgent medical care or attention, call 999 (or 112 from a mobile) and ask for an ambulance or go straight to your nearest Accident & Emergency department.
If you are living with domestic abuse, or if you have recently left a violent relationship, it is important that you look after yourself and your health.
If you are worried about your health, and don’t want to go to your GP, you could ring the NHS non-emergency number on 111 (available 24 hours). NHS online provides information on health services and links to other agencies and self-help organisations.
For information on mental health issues, see the section on Domestic abuse and your mental health