10 Sep 2018

Study reveals link between domestic violence and suicide attempts

10:58 am on 10 September 2018

A study released today shows a strong link between domestic abuse and self-harm.

Warning: Some readers may find this content distressing

Stock photo illustrating domestic violence.

Photo: 123RF

It was conducted by Women's Refuge, with the aim of increasing knowledge of women's experiences of being both suicidal and a victim of intimate partner violence.

It also sought to identify better ways of responding to those women.

More than 1200 women responded to the survey, and their experiences at their partners' hands covered sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

All study respondents had considered or attempted suicide, with feeling worthless consistently reported as the most common factor driving that.

They also revealed other forms of self-harm, including depriving themselves of food and water, intentionally depriving themselves of activities that made them feel good, and burning themselves.

Many women reported being raped by their partner, including one who described that happening many times.

"[I was] raped a few times, put down continually, told 'no one else would put up with you', 'you're so fat and ugly you make me want to vomit on you'."

Another spoke of the erosion of her self-esteem and feeling she was always walking on eggshells.

"He gradually isolated me from friends and family and the abuse became more frequent.

"I was a strong independent person before he managed to manipulate me and never expected that I would ever be in a relationship like that, or not have the guts to leave after the first time, but here I was, time after time.

"He messed with my head and my self-esteem. I felt trapped like I couldn't leave."

Another woman said her husband began using his guns against her when he became scared she would leave him.

"At first it was a pistol to the face or he would hold one while we argued, then he started pointing them at me and looking down the scope of his rifles.

"Then the shotgun became his favourite as my tongue got sharper.

"The side-by-side double barrel shoved down my throat until I would vomit blood became his favourite way to silence me for days at a time."

More than 90 percent of respondents had also experienced other abuse, including childhood sexual abuse, before entering a violent relationship.

Women's Refuge chief Ang Jury said it had been known there was some link between domestic violence and the mental health problems suffered by survivors of such abuse, but generally the two had been treated as separate issues.

She said there was no way of knowing the prevalence of domestic violence leading to suicide but she thinks the numbers would be high.

"If you ...think about the experience of being abused by a partner, someone who is supposed to love you and care for you, the obvious potential for at least severe depression is really, really clear," said Ang Jury.

She said Women's Refuge itself did not come through the survey unscathed, as some women were critical of the help they were offered and that will be addressed.

"Rolling out far more extensive training with Refuge advocates so they know to make sure they are asking the right questions so they aren't missing things."

Ang Jury said the most important thing a person could do if a friend or family member disclosed they were a domestic violence victim, was to believe them.

"Make sure the person knows it is not their fault; that it is the behaviour of the abuser that is bad and wrong; that there is no excuse for it and they have no blame for it.

"People get angry, people react badly to other people's actions, but the abuse of someone in response to that is simply unacceptable."

Ang Jury said the study results would be shared with other agencies and she was encouraging the public to read it.

Where to get help:

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

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