help for battered women

The Role of Chiropractic in Helping Battered Women
Leslie Bedell, D.C.


Chiropractors who care for women and children are one of the primary healthcare professionals first to identify the effects of abuse in their patients. The FBI statistics are alarming:

  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between ages 15 and 44 in the United States – more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991)

  • Battered women are often severely injured – 22 to 35 percent of women who visit medical emergency rooms are there for injuries related to ongoing partner abuse. (David Adams, “Identifying the Assaultive Husband in Court: You be the Judge.” Boston Bar Journal, 33-4, July/August 1989)

  • Approximately 1 in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence in dating relationships. Among college students, the figure rises to 22%, equivalent to the rate for adults. (Gamache, 1991)

  • A woman is beaten every 15 seconds. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Report to the nation on Crime and Justice. The Data. Washington DC office of Justice Program, US Dept. of Justice. Oct 1983)

  • Nationally, 50 percent of all homeless women and children are on the streets because of violence in the home. (Senator Joseph Biden, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Violence Against Women: Victims of the System, 1991)

  • Women of all cultures, races, occupations, income levels, and ages are battered – by husbands, boyfriends, lovers and partners. (Surgeon General Antonia Novello, as quoted in Domestic Violence: Battered Women, publication of the Reference Department of the Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge, MA)

  • Battering is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship through violence and other forms of abuse. The batterer uses acts of violence and a series of behaviors, including intimidation, threats, psychological abuse, isolation, etc. to coerce and to control the other person. The violence may not happen often, but it remains as a hidden (and constant) terrorizing factor. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1990)

The definition of “Battering” is “ the use of physical and/or emotional abuse by one person, used deliberately and repeatedly to control and maintain power over another in an intimate relationship”. Studies show that verbal and emotional abuse is often just as damaging as physical abuse. This type of battering often usually goes unreported but leaves permanent scars, which affect a victim's ability to function as well as their self-esteem and health.

Battered women are living in constant stress. Their bodies are engaged in some degree of a “fight-or-flight” response at all times, gearing up for the next round of abuse. Over time, this stress takes its toll on the body creating subluxations in all areas of the nervous system.

A wide range of physical ailments can develop in a woman who is in an abusive relationship. The most common are: chronic headaches, neck and back pain, muscle tension, chronic fatigue, immune dysfunction, anxiety disorders, digestive complaints and hormonal disorders. These women are often very accident-prone and will frequently visit a Chiropractor's office for treatment after falls.

As Chiropractors, we know that subluxations are caused by toxins, traumas, and auto-suggestion (thoughts). Battered women who are physically abused or frequently injured are victims of trauma. The effects of auto-suggestions cause more commonly seen subluxations. A battered woman hears countless negative and degrading messages from her abuser as well as from inside her own head. She “hears” that she is worthless, ugly, stupid, incompetent, a poor partner, a bad mother, etc. Her thought patterns are filled with self-deprecating words and phrases. These negative thoughts affect her neurochemistry leading to dis-ease throughout her organs. She often lives in fear for herself and her children.
Abused women often subconsciously use illness and injury as a way to find relief from the abusive environment. The abuser puts fewer demands on them and treats them with more respect for a short time. This scenario will put the victims in touch with health care providers that not only care for their physical needs but also treat them with respect and dignity. This is often the only time that abused women feel validated as worthwhile human beings.

Caregivers such as Chiropractors who connect to their patients through touch and communication will often be the first to discern the effects of the abuse. By asking the right questions in a sensitive way, the Chiropractor, especially a female, may become a trusted person in the abused woman's life. The victim will open up and begin to talk about what is going on at home. There are many clues that these patients give that can be spotted in our clinics. Besides the physical red-flag symptoms cited above, it is possible to detect a battered woman by the way she carries herself, her facial tension, and the messages her body gives us during our palpation and touch.

As Chiropractors, we need to recognize the tremendous impact of subluxation correction on the ability to improve quality of life. I feel we have not only a responsibility, but also an opportunity, to reach out to the thousands of women and children living in abusive environments. By becoming more informed, we can begin identifying abusive patterns in our patients and offer them resources to help them get out of battering relationships. Every community already has systems in place to address this growing problem in our society. Law enforcement, shelters, school counselors, youth services and recovery programs are just a few of the resources that Chiropractors can partner with. By educating the Directors of these programs about the impact that Chiropractic care can have in improving the health and well being of victims of abuse, we can make a difference in our communities. Studies show that 63% of batterers grew up in violent homes and were battered themselves. By helping one family break the cycle of abuse we can allow the children of the generations to come to attain a higher quality of life. What an honorable way to serve our patients as Chiropractors!

Leslie Bedell, D.C., Secretary-Treasurer of the World Chiropractic Alliance Council on Women's Health, runs a busy family clinic in North Bend, Washington. She is actively involved in her community teaching Life Skills classes and holding support groups to Women and Teen girls as part of a domestic violence prevention and recovery program. She heads up a monthly Women's Health Forum and is a much sought after speaker to groups including PTA's, women's retreats, and women's health seminars. She is currently conducting a clinical research study with autistic children from her community.