Britain In Grip Of Hidden Abuse Epidemic, Says BMA

Doctors’ leaders yesterday warned of a huge “unspoken epidemic” of domestic abuse. A report from the British Medical Association calls for doctors to be trained to spot and help victims.

Domestic abuse has been reported to affect more than 350,000 people in England and Wales, but the British Crime Survey found that 34% of female and 62% of male victims have never told anyone.

“The figures we provide in this report are shocking, but perhaps more alarming is that they are likely to be grossly underestimated,” said Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA. “Domestic abuse is an unspoken scar on our society.”

Some 80% of victims are women, many elderly and disabled. Around one in three women who arrive at inner-city accident and emergency hospital departments have suffered domestic abuse, according to a study in the journal Emergency Medicine.

About 750,000 children each year witness domestic abuse, says the report, around half of whom have themselves been badly hit or beaten. About 30% of abuse begins when a woman in a relationship is pregnant. Partner abuse happens as frequently in same-sex relationships, the report says.

An estimated half a million older people are abused, mainly through neglect.

The total bill for domestic abuse to the criminal justice, health, social, housing and legal services is estimated at about £3.1 bn, says the BMA, plus a loss to the economy of £2.7bn a year.

The report calls for health professionals to be aware of the potential for abuse in ethnic minority groups where the breach of codes of honour may be punished by violence.

While domestic abuse tends to be more prevalent in poorer areas, the report says that it can occur in professional families.