Pediatricians Should Ask About Domestic Violence

Like it or not, journalists sometimes must act as media sheriffs, enforcing the order in which stories will appear. We say, in essence, “This news cycle ain’t big enough for the both of ya.” Probably too often, the sensational story wins out over the story about a more common problem that’s just as important.

This may have happened when the American Academy of Pediatrics published a clinical report in May 2010 on the need for physicians who see children to ask their parents or caretakers about “intimate partner violence,” another term for adult domestic violence that also encompasses violence from partners who live outside the home. The lead author of that report, Dr. Jonathan D. Thackeray, says it didn’t get the attention it deserved because it was overshadowed by the simultaneous publication of the Academy’s policy statement on ritual genital cutting of female minors.

Photo by flickr user taberandrew (Creative Commons)

The Academy gave Dr. Thackeray a speaking slot in a plenary session at its recent national meeting in San Francisco, which might generate some of that attention his report didn’t received. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m betting that intimate partner violence is a more widespread problem in the United States than is ritual genital alteration. One study found that at least 16 million U.S. children were exposed to adult intimate partner violence in the previous year, and at least 7 million were exposed to severe intimate partner violence.

Besides putting children at risk for harm, that violence can have long-term effects, other studies show. Adults who report childhood exposure to intimate partner violence in the family are three times more likely to report sexual abuse, five times more likely to report physical neglect or abuse, and six times more likely to report emotional or substance abuse.

Don’t get me wrong — I think the policy on ritual genital cutting is important too. I’m just glad to see both of these reports get the attention they deserve.

–Sherry Boschert

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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Pediatrics, Uncategorized

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