Women's Health Effects Study

This project drew on a community sample of 309 women experiencing intimate partner violence. Data from these women was used to understand how violence affected their health and what it costs all of us.

The Study

This study began the process of building a context-specific understanding of women’s health after leaving an abusive partner by addressing the role of women’s personal, social and economic resources in mediating the relationship between the severity of past abuse and current mental and physical health. This knowledge is essential for developing more effective ways to assist women in regaining and improving their health after separation from an abusive partner.

Based on previous research and a determinants of health perspective (Health Canada, n.d.), a structural equation model was constructed to assess the effect of past IPV and current resources on women’s mental and physical health

A community sample of 309 English-speaking women who were between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age, had experienced IPV in the past 3 years and were no longer living with an abusive male partner, was recruited from three Canadian provinces. Exposure to IPV in the relationship with the woman’s ex-partner was confirmed using a modified version of the Abuse Assessment Screen (AAS) (Parker & McFarlane, 1991) which included four items (one each for physical abuse, forced sex, fear of partner, and experiences of coercive control). An affirmative response to at least one of four screening questions was considered positive for IPV.

Data were collected in two phases through completion of a structured interview designed to elicit information about women’s resources, service use and demographic characteristics, followed within 2–3 weeks by an in-depth abuse history and health assessment conducted by a Registered Nurse. A combination of standardized self-report measures, survey questions and biophysical tests were used to measure the variables of interest.

Policy Briefs

We have put together a series of policy briefs drawing on the evidence from this project. Download them here.

Key Messages

  • There is a poor fit between current health services and the many physical and mental health needs of women (survivors) in the early years after leaving an abusive partner
  • Secondary prevention services designed to manage the health effects of abuse/ trauma are needed to address the long term costs of abuse.
  • Services for survivors of intimate partner violence need to address the effects of trauma/abuse experienced across the lifespan.
  • Survivors’ strengths are key to helping them manage the challenges they face after leaving, but they are often neglected.
  • Barriers to survivor self-sufficiency can be eliminated through changes to policies, programs and services.

Tools for Understanding Health Effects of IPV

We have developed a few different ‘visuals’ to show common health problems/symptoms of women who have histories of IPV. We have converted these into tools that can help women to track and understand the symptoms they are experiencing.

Symptom Checklist
Symptom Tracker


  • Broughton, S., & Ford-Gilboe, M. (2017). Predicting family health and well-being after separation from an abusive partner: role of coercive control, mother’s depression and social support. J Clin Nurs. 2017 Aug;26(15-16):2468-2481. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13458. Epub 2017 Feb 9.
  • Comeau, J., & Davies, L (2012). Patterns of depressive symptoms and antidepressant use among women survivors of intimate partner violence. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 47:1527–1537 DOI 10.1007/s00127-011-0459-4
    Ford-Gilboe, M., Varcoe, C., Noh, M., Wuest, J., Hammerton, J., Alhalal, E., & Burnett, C. (2015). Patterns and predictors of service use among women who have recently left abusive partners. Journal of Family Violence, 30(4), 419-431. DOI:10.1007/s10896-015-9688-8 (Open Access).
  • MacIntosh, J., Wuest, J., Ford-Gilboe, M., & Varcoe, C. (2015). Cumulative effects of multiple forms of violence and abuse on women. Violence & Victims, 30(3), 502-531.
  • Davies, L., Ford-Gilboe, M., Willson, A., Varcoe, C., Wuest, J., Campbell, J., & Scott-Storey, K. (2015). Patterns of cumulative abuse among female survivors of intimate partner violence: Links to women’s health and socioeconomic status. Violence Against Women, 21(1), 30-48. DOI:10.1177/1077801214564076.
  • Stam, M., Ford-Gilboe, M., & Reagan, S. (2015). Primary Health Care Service Use Among Women who Have Recently Left an Abusive Partner: Income, Racialization, Unmet Need, Fit of Service, and Health. Health Care for Women International, 36(2), 161-187. DOI: 10.1080/07399332.2014.909431. Epub 2014 Jun 12.
  • Scott-Storey, K. (2013). Abuse as gendered risk factor for cardiovascular disease: A conceptual model. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 28(6), E1-E8.
  • Guruge, S., Ford-Gilboe, M., Varcoe, C., Wuest, J., Samuels-Dennis, J., & Wilk, P. (2012). Rethinking social support and conflict: Lessons from a study with women who have left an abusive partner. Nursing Research and Practice, ID 738905, DOI:10.1155/2012/738905. Epub 2012 Sep 2.
  • Alhalal, E., Ford-Gilboe, M., Kerr, M., & Davies, L. (2012). Identifying Factors that predictors women’s inability to maintain separation from an abusive partner. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 33(12), 838-850.  DOI: 10.3109/01612840.2012.714054.
  • Ponic, P., Varcoe, C., Davies, L., Ford-Gilboe, M., Wuest, J., & Hammerton, J. (2012). Leaving ≠ moving: Housing patterns of women who have left an abusive partner. Violence Against Women, 17(12), 1576-1600.
  • Ford-Gilboe, M., Merritt-Gray, M., Varcoe, C., & Wuest, J. (2011). A complex, trauma informed primary health care intervention for women who have left abusive partners. Advances in Nursing Science, 34(3), 198-214.
  • Varcoe, C., Hankivsky, O., Ford-Gilboe, M., Wuest, J., & Wilk, P & Campbell. J. (2011). Attributing selected costs to intimate partner violence in a sample of women who have left abusive partners: A social determinants of health approach. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 1-22.
  • Jategaonkar, N. & Ponic, P. (2011) Unsafe and Unacceptable Housing: Health and Policy Implications for Women Leaving Violent Relationships. Women’s Health & Urban Life, Special Issue on Women’s Health and Public Policy, 10(1), 32-58.
  • Wuest, J., Ford-Gilboe, M., Merritt-Gray, M., Wilk, P., Campbell, J., Lent, B., Varcoe, C., & Smye. V. (2010) Pathways of Chronic Pain in Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Considering Abuse-related Injury, Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Depressive     Symptoms, and Child Abuse. Journal of Women’s Health, 19(9), 1665-1674.
  • Scott-Storey, K., Wuest, J., & Ford-Gilboe, M. (2009). Intimate Partner Violence and cardiovascular risk: Is there a link? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65(10), 2186-2197(Electronic version available at doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2009.05086.x.)
  • Wuest, J., Ford-Gilboe, M., Merritt-Gray, M., Varcoe, C., Lent, B., Wilk, P., & Campbell, J. (2009). Abuse-related Injury and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as Mechanisms of Chronic Pain in Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. Pain Medicine, 10(4), 739-747.
  • Ford-Gilboe, M., Wuest, J., Varcoe, C., Davies, L., Merritt-Gray, M., Campbell, J., & Wilk, P. (2009). Modeling the effects of intimate partner violence and access to resources on women’s health in the early years after leaving an abusive partner. Social Science and Medicine. 68(6), 1021-1029.
  • Riddell, T., Ford-Gilboe, M., & Leipert, B. (2009). Strategies used by Rural Women to Stop, Avoid or Prevent Intimate Partner Violence. Health Care for Women International, 30(1), 134-159.
  • Wuest, J., Merritt-Gray, M., Ford-Gilboe, M., Lent, B., Campbell, J., & Varcoe, C. (2009). Patterns of Chronic Pain in Women who have experienced Intimate Partner Violence.  Journal of Pain, 9, 1049-1057.
  • Davies, L., Ford-Gilboe, M. & Hammerton, J. (2008). Gender inequality and patterns of abuse post leaving. Journal of Family Violence, 24, 27-39.
  • Wuest, J., Merritt-Gray, M., Lent, B., Varcoe, C., Connors, A., & Ford-Gilboe, M. (2007). Patterns of Medication Use Among Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. Canadian Journal of     Public Health, 98(6), 460-464.