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Open Access Research article

Socioeconomic disparities in intimate partner violence against Native American women: a cross-sectional study

Lorraine Halinka Malcoe12*, Bonnie M Duran1 and Juliann M Montgomery23

Author Affiliations

1 Masters in Public Health Program, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87131-0001, USA

2 At the time of the study, these authors were with the College of Public Health, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73190, USA

3 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73190, USA

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BMC Medicine 2004, 2:20  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-2-20

Published: 24 May 2004

Abstract

Background

Intimate partner violence (IPV) against women is a global public health problem, yet data on IPV against Native American women are extremely limited. We conducted a cross-sectional study of Native American women to determine prevalence of lifetime and past-year IPV and partner injury; examine IPV in relation to pregnancy; and assess demographic and socioeconomic correlates of past-year IPV.

Methods

Participants were recruited from a tribally-operated clinic serving low-income pregnant and childbearing women in southwest Oklahoma. A self-administered survey was completed by 312 Native American women (96% response rate) attending the clinic from June through August 1997. Lifetime and past-year IPV were measured using modified 18-item Conflict Tactics Scales. A socioeconomic index was created based on partner's education, public assistance receipt, and poverty level.

Results

More than half (58.7%) of participants reported lifetime physical and/or sexual IPV; 39.1% experienced severe physical IPV; 12.2% reported partner-forced sexual activity; and 40.1% reported lifetime partner-perpetrated injuries. A total of 273 women had a spouse or boyfriend during the previous 12 months (although all participants were Native American, 59.0% of partners were non-Native). Among these women, past-year prevalence was 30.1% for physical and/or sexual IPV; 15.8% for severe physical IPV; 3.3% for forced partner-perpetrated sexual activity; and 16.4% for intimate partner injury. Reported IPV prevalence during pregnancy was 9.3%. Pregnancy was not associated with past-year IPV (odds ratio = 0.9). Past-year IPV prevalence was 42.8% among women scoring low on the socioeconomic index, compared with 10.1% among the reference group. After adjusting for age, relationship status, and household size, low socioeconomic index remained strongly associated with past-year IPV (odds ratio = 5.0; 95% confidence interval: 2.4, 10.7).

Conclusions

Native American women in our sample experienced exceptionally high rates of lifetime and past-year IPV. Additionally, within this low-income sample, there was strong evidence of socioeconomic variability in IPV. Further research should determine prevalence of IPV against Native American women from diverse tribes and regions, and examine pathways through which socioeconomic disadvantage may increase their IPV risk.