Victims of chronic dating violence

A woman in a violent relationship is often on high alert: She may be frightened about being killed or worried about her kids; if she tries to get away, she may be stalked. A recent study at the School of Nursing at the University of California at San Francisco found that women who have endured long periods of abuse, particularly if they had young children at the time, tend to have shorter telomeres (strands of DNA that protectively cap the ends of chromosomes) than other women.

Telomeres shorten in response to chronic stress, which can lead to premature cell death.

“But she turns 45 and she’s got all kinds of crazy health problems, and she thinks, Where did this come from? women are injured by their husbands or boyfriends; more than a quarter require medical attention. Although strangulation can cause long-term memory loss, stroke and respiratory problems, in fully half the cases it leaves no visible bruises on the neck.

Now remarried, “I no longer have a hyper-startle response if my husband walks into the room behind me.” In her mid-thirties and wanting to start life anew, she was ready to be a mother.

Sarah* was sure she had left her violent past behind.

Her first husband, a high-powered business executive who during their 10-year marriage had bounced her head against walls, sexually assaulted her and nearly strangled her with a dog leash, was out of her life.

As a result, these women spend nearly 20 percent more money on medical care than other women. “When I started this work more than a decade ago, we knew that women who experienced violence were at higher risk of developing chronic diseases like asthma but our understanding of the bio-logical link was limited,” says Michele Black, an epidemiologist at the CDC who was the lead author of a landmark 2011 report on DV-related illness.

“Now we’re beginning to understand why that might be. Your whole body is at risk.” The damage, which lingers long after the violence is over, can impair a woman’s brain function, endocrine system, immune response—even her DNA.

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