Woman Abuse as a Health Issue

Publication Date: 
prior to 1995
Resource Origin: 

Wendy Ross, Chair of the Abuse against Women Committee at Peel Memorial Hospital, takes a personal approach to encourage community members to seek out new learnings to help woman who are abused.

I have worked for Peel Memorial Hospital for the last 13 years. During that time, my clinical responsibilities as a social worker have given me the opportunity to meet many women who have received health care services through the hospital. From these meetings, I began to understand the effects violence has on women's health and well-being.

I can still recall the anguish of a woman I saw in obstetrics whose early labor was induced by a traumatic experience where her spouse came an inch away from kicking her stomach with his foot. In psychiatry, I met numerous women of diverse backgrounds who were admitted repeatedly, and whose relationships with their partners were characterized by violence. These women are still lodged in my memory. In Emergency, I saw bruises and fractures on every part of women's bodies, and heard tales of horror about what their partners were saying and doing to them. I could hardly believe the barbaric action of a man dragging his spouse along the kitchen floor by her hair. Too many medications and substances were used by women to alleviate the anxiety and depression caused by verbal abuse, isolation from their friends and families, financial control by their partners, and physical and sexual assaults by their spouses and boyfriends. This occupied so many of my thoughts, and I felt saddened by their experiences.

These horrible assaults cause both physical and mental injury, including depressions, often accompanied by suicidal ideation (1). The histories of women who seek long term mental health treatment at the hospital's Community Mental Health Clinic, where I now work, reveal an abundance of abuse.

It is therefore not at all surprising to me that The Violence Prevention Task Force for The Region of Peel declared violence as the number one health hazard in the Region (2). Many of the studies and statistics which I have reviewed from different regions support this declaration. For instance, a Canada-wide survey shows that 61% of women physically or sexually assaulted by their male partners are injured in the attack (3). A Newfoundland study confirms the high prevalence of woman abuse among psychiatric patients, reporting that 42% of the women currently being assaulted had been assaulted just prior to their hospitalization (4). Another study indicates that the abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs is 3-5 times higher in women living in abusive relationships (5).

The  health-related costs of violence against women in Canada are estimated at $1.5 billion dollars per year (6). However, the costs related to the health and well-being of women and their children are not accurately reflected by a number. One has only to look at the sadness in their faces, to the slow movements in their gait, or to the startled reactions created from fear, to see the effects of violence on their health. It is our responsibility as health care providers to help these women, and their children, gain a greater quality of life. Often, when a women looks for help, her first contact is with a health care professional (7).  We can learn about symptoms that are common to women who are abused. We can learn what questions to ask women, and how to ask them in a way that provides safety and comfort. We must learn how to keep detailed records of our observations. And we must become knowledgeable about, and work with other resources in the community to help assaulted women. We can make a difference in the lives of assaulted women if we are not afraid to help.


1. Thoughts of suicide

2. Violence Prevention Task Force. "Shades of Gray", Region of Peel, 1997

3. Solicitor General of Canada. "Female Victims of Crime, Canadian Urbanization Survey Bulletin 4", Ottawa: Research & Statistics Group and the Communications Group, Program Branch, Ministry of Solicitor General, 1985

4. John Carlisle, "Spouse Assault on Mentally Disordered Wives" (Western Memorial Regional Hospital, Corner Brook, Nfld, 1990)

5. N. Noel & Yam, M. "Domesic Violence: The Pregnant Battered Woman", Women's Health, 1992

6. Cited in Violence Prevention Task Force, "Shades of Gray", 1997

7. L.E. Ferris & F. Tudiver, "Family Physicians Approach to Wife Abuse: A Study of Ontario, Canada Practices." Family Medicine , 1992