Political Violence May Predict Intimate Partner Abuse Among Immigrants

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers at Yale have found that victims of political violence were much more likely to report abusing their female partners after immigrating to the United States

For many U.S. immigrants, political violence in their homelands is a fact of life and is often a factor in their decision to begin anew somewhere else. But the scars that such violence leaves may not be so easy to mend. For many, the violence they were trying to escape resurfaces in their newly adopted homeland.

Led by Yale postdoctoral fellow Jhumka Gupta, researchers at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, within the Yale School of Public Health, surveyed 379 immigrant men from three different community health centers in the Greater Boston area. Most of the men in the study had immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean, Cape Verde and Latin America. Men who experienced political violence either directly or indirectly were more than twice as likely to report that they had abused their female partners (either physically or sexually) within the past year. This relationship held true even after considering length of time in the United States.

Gupta and her colleagues found that one in five men reported some level of exposure to political violence while living in their homelands. In the most extreme cases, the participants reported being detained and tortured, or had family members disappear. Others said that they had witnessed people being tortured, raped and killed.

Of the men who experienced this violence, 30.3 percent reported abusing female partners, while only 14.9 percent of the immigrant men who had not experienced political violence reported perpetrating such abuse.

While there needs to be further study on the exact factors that lead such men to abuse their partners, the investigators speculate that untreated mental trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder may be an important link. This theory has also been proposed to explain the behavior of combat soldiers following a tour of duty.

“Though our work should be considered preliminary, the findings may well be important for a broad spectrum of public health and humanitarian programs working with war-affected populations, both in the U.S. and abroad,” Gupta said.

Other study authors were Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, David Hemenway, and Jay Silverman from the Harvard School of Public Health, and Anita Raj from Boston University School of Public Health.

Details of the research were published in American Journal of Public Health. The research was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health under the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award.

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326

Michael Greenwood: michael.greenwood@yale.edu, 203-737-5151