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Vol. LXIII, No. 2
January 21, 2011

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Focus on Understanding, Prevention
NICHD’s Maholmes Reviews Domestic Violence Research Effort
Dr. Valerie Maholmes  
Dr. Valerie Maholmes  

Every year, as many as 4 million women and more than 3 million men in the United States are victims of domestic violence, said Dr. Valerie Maholmes, director of the Social and Affective Development/Child Maltreatment and Violence Program at NICHD. At the recent “HHS Striving for Healthy Employees” event recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she highlighted NIH-supported research efforts on studying, understanding and ultimately preventing this public health challenge.

In their lifetimes, one in three women and one in every 13 men will experience intimate partner violence, Maholmes said, with young women ages 16 to 24 experiencing the highest rates of violence within relationships.

“Many of the questions, interventions and challenges that we want to put forward to address domestic violence cannot be answered through a single discipline alone or through the efforts of a single institute alone,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the HHS steering committee on violence against women and included an opening address by HHS assistant secretary for health Dr. Howard Koh. Citing 2005 statistics of 15,000 deaths annually from intimate partner violence (80 percent women and 20 percent men), he called for improved data and reporting on the health effects of domestic violence in addition to increased awareness and prevention efforts.

“We work collaboratively across NIH institutes to address these compelling health problems,” Maholmes said. As an example, she cited the efforts of the National Institute on Aging, which supports research related to violence, abuse and mistreatment as experienced by older Americans, especially women.

As an example of the circumstances that might trigger violence against women, Maholmes described an NICHD-supported study that looked at domestic violence associated with football games.

Similarly, NICHD funds a broad spectrum of studies including violence and the effects on women’s reproductive health, violence within marriage, causes and consequences of family violence and how family violence affects children. As an example of the circumstances that might trigger violence against women, Maholmes described an NICHD-supported study that looked at domestic violence associated with football games. Researchers reviewed calls to police reporting men’s assaults on their partners and discovered that calls rose 10 percent in areas where the local team was favored to win, but ultimately lost. There was a noted spike in reports of violence when the home team lost compared to when the team didn’t have a game, as well as when losses were judged to be emotionally charged—when teams were in playoff contention or had experienced an upset loss to a rival. In addition, the timing of calls indicated that violence occurred within 2 hours of a game.

Maholmes added that a large body of research indicates that alcohol use is related to family violence. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism supports studies on alcohol-related violence against women. Maholmes noted that NIAAA researchers investigate issues such as the role alcohol plays in violence perpetrated on college campuses and in incapacitated rape, in which the victim has consumed so much alcohol that she is unable to resist attack.

Similarly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funds research to improve the understanding of the health and social consequences of drug use and violence against women and girls. Researchers examine such issues as exposure to violence and abuse as risk factors for later drug abuse; drug use as a risk factor for violence and abuse; violence, abuse and trauma; and the risk of intimate partner violence among substance-abusing women. The National Institute of Mental Health supports studies on the mental health consequences of trauma. Maholmes pointed out that NIMH funded more than 40 research and training grants in fiscal year 2009 that looked at psychiatric disorders in the context of violence against women.

Recent research supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research included a test of a community- oriented intervention among resettled refugee women who experienced war trauma. Other researchers have assessed the long-term behavioral and physiological outcomes of women who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder from domestic violence.

To view the archived webcast of the event, visit NIHRecord Icon

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