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Study: Threat of firearm violence affects nearly one in four female domestic abuse victims

Posted April 10, 2017

Threat and fear of firearm violence affects nearly one in four female victims of domestic abuse, according to a first-of-its-kind study by two Yale Department of Psychiatry researchers on the relationship between firearm threat and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study, published online March 28 by the Journal Violence and Gender, revealed that PTSD symptom severity increases the more a woman has been threatened by gun violence.

Researchers interviewed 298 Connecticut women ages 18 to 75 years who were victims in a criminal domestic violence case with a male intimate partner. Approximately one-quarter said they were threatened by a gun during their relationship, and 12.5 percent reported being afraid their partners would use a firearm against them in the 30 days prior to being interviewed.

Nearly half said it would be easy for their partner to obtain a firearm if they didn’t already have one.

“These (numbers) are high,” said Tami P. Sullivan, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale and Director of Family Violence Research and Programs at The Consultation Center, and the study’s first author. “And I think part of that is we don’t ask about this, so we don’t know.”

Sullivan said PTSD rates are higher in women who experience intimate partner violence, and the study showed the severity of symptoms increases if a woman fears her partner will use a firearm against her.

Sullivan said community providers and the courts could use the data to develop programs to help women victimized by firearm threats. Research exists on the use of guns in domestic violence homicide cases, but more study is needed in threatening cases, she said.

“Many of these victims don’t come to the attention of people. They don’t have to attend the court hearings, and a lot of them don’t,” she said. “Some of them get help and some of them don’t. Part of that is related to the psychological abuse. They don’t feel they are worthy of (help).”

The paper’s co- author was Nicole Weiss, PhD, Associate Research Scientist in the Sullivan Lab at Yale.

The authors received funding from the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Source: Yale University

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