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Women who spend their childhoods in deprived neighbourhoods face an increased risk of intimate partner violence

21 November 2019

Women who spend longer periods of their early lives in less affluent neighbourhoods are at greater risk of experiencing violence during their early adulthoods at the hands of their intimate partners, finds a new study published in Epidemiology.

Intimate partner violence – physical, psychological, or sexual violence committed by a current or former partner – is the most common form of violence experienced by women worldwide. In the UK, an estimated 7% of women (approximately 1.1 million women) reported experiencing this violence in the last year alone according to the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales.

The research, led by the University of Oxford with the University of Bristol, looked at participants of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study who were followed from birth and reported on their experiences of intimate partner violence between ages 18 to 21. The researchers examined the level of deprivation in women's neighbourhoods over the first 18 years of women's lives, according to England's official measure of area-level deprivation, the Indices of Multiple Deprivation. They found that women who had lived in the most deprived neighbourhoods for longer durations over their childhoods were 36% more likely to experience any intimate partner violence between ages 18 to 21. They also experienced this violence more frequently than women who had spent less or no time living in more deprived neighbourhoods, says the paper.

This is the first UK study to examine whether long-term exposure to neighbourhood deprivation affects the risk of intimate partner violence against women. Neighbourhood deprivation is often thought to increase this risk, in part because neighbourhoods with fewer social and economic resources tend to have higher rates of public forms of violence, like burglary and vandalism. However, whether these relationships translate to violence within the home, and between intimate partners, has been less certain. Prior to this study, nearly every study assessing the relationship between neighbourhood deprivation and intimate partner violence over time had been from the United States.

Lead author Dr Alexa Yakubovich (University of Oxford and Unity Health Toronto) said: "Intimate partner violence is a major public health problem, in the UK and beyond. To develop more effective prevention strategies, we need a better understanding of what causes this violence in the first instance. Our study supports the idea that factors beyond individuals are important for determining women's risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. The effectiveness of strategies that address these structural inequities in preventing intimate partner violence should be evaluated."

Professor Gene Feder at the University of Bristol's Centre for Academic Primary Care, also a study co-author, commented: "The Children of the 90s study was one of the first to measure exposure to intimate partner violence alongside a wide range of individual, family, social and economic factors, over time. This research adds to the evidence that economic inequality and deprivation, even at a neighbourhood level increases a woman’s risk of experiencing abuse. Reducing intimate partner violence requires reduction of economic as well as gender inequality, in addition to supporting survivors and their families."

Senior author, Dr David Humphreys at the University of Oxford added: "This is the first UK study, to our knowledge, to demonstrate that long-term exposure to deprived neighbourhoods appears to be an important factor contributing to increased risks of violent victimisation in young women by their partners. Further research is required to understand how communities can be assisted in supporting young women at risk of violence in the home."

Paper: Long-term exposure to neighborhood deprivation and intimate partner violence among women: a UK birth-cohort study by Alexa R Yakubovich et al. Published in Epidemiology. 20 November 2019.

Further information

Lead author Dr Alexa Yakubovich received her DPhil in Evidence-Based Social Intervention at the University of Oxford this year, funded by a Rhodes Scholarship, CIHR Doctoral Foreign Study Award, and the Hertford College Alain Locke Senior Scholarship. She is currently a CIHR Health System Impact Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto.

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol

The Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol is a leading centre for primary care research in the UK, one of nine forming the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. It sits within Bristol Medical School, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for population health research and teaching. Follow us on Twitter: @capcbristol.

The Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford

The Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford is a multidisciplinary centre of excellence for research and teaching in social policy and the development and systematic evaluation of social interventions.

Children of the 90s/ALSPAC

Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health research project that enrolled more than 14,0000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents, their children and now their grandchildren in detail ever since. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol.

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