An alarming 44 percent of women say they have experienced abusive behavior from a partner. Years after the bruises from domestic violence fade, the physical effects can linger in the form of serious health problems—migraines, arthritis, even gastrointestinal disease. Our groundbreaking investigation
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. She’d gotten a divorce, finished college, become a successful consultant, worked intensively with a trauma therapist and married an old friend with whom she felt safe.
Gradually, the symptoms of her previous torment eased. The residual headaches from the head injuries disappeared, although she still remembers the sound of her skull hitting the kitchen walls and floor. “It sounds like when you knock on a cantaloupe to see if it’s ripe,” Sarah, now 47, says with a sad laugh. There are still black holes in her memory; she can’t coherently recollect the years from her mid- to late twenties, the period when the violence reached its height. But the worst of the terrors are over. “I no longer suffer from PTSD at night,” she says, remembering how she would sleep in her horse’s stall to hide from her then husband’s drunken attacks. Now remarried, “I no longer have a hyper-startle response if my husband walks into the room behind me.”
In her midthirties and wanting to start life anew, she was ready to be a mother. But for reasons her doctors initially didn’t understand, Sarah struggled to carry a baby to term. After six miscarriages, a doctor finally suggested that head trauma could be a factor; neurological damage from repeated brain injuries had disrupted the hormonal balance she needed to deliver a healthy child. “My endocrine system just hardwired the violence into me,” Sarah says.