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Most Domestic Violence Victims Get Little, No Help


Domestic violence victims, the majority of whom are women, are typically not identified as being a victim of abuse whenever they visit emergency departments, according to a new study. As a result, most domestic violence victims do not get the help or interventions they need.

Screening for domestic violence is ineffective

The exact magnitude of domestic violence in the United States is difficult to gauge, as many victims are not identified or do not report the abuse. However, research suggests that police in the United States spend about one third of their time responding to domestic violence calls, and that between 4 and 15 percent of women who go to an emergency department do so because of domestic violence.

The US Department of Justice notes that women are 84 percent of spouse abuse victims and 86 percent of victims of abuse from an intimate partner. About 75 percent of people who commit family violence are male.

A new study appearing online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine offers some insight into the problem. The study was conducted over four years (1999-2002) and involved 8 emergency departments, 12 police jurisdictions, and the prosecuting attorney’s office, all in one Midwestern county.

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During the study period, 993 female victims of domestic abuse generated 3,246 related police incidents. Of these women, about 80 percent sought assistance at an emergency department, and nearly 80 percent of them had medical complaints.

According to Dr. Karin Rhodes, of the University of Pennsylvania, and her team, however, up to 72 percent of these women were not identified as victims of abuse, even though they averaged seven visits to the emergency department during the study period.

Among abused women who were identified in the emergency departments, a social worker was provided 45 percent of the time. In only 33 percent of cases did the providers determine whether the victim had a safe place to go, and only 25 percent of the victims were referred to domestic violence services.

The laws concerning the reporting of domestic violence vary from state to state. Many states, however, do not have protocols or mandates that require health care professionals to report suspected domestic violence or even to provide victims with information on safe houses or other services.

The results of this latest study suggest that female victims of domestic violence often seek emergency department assistance, but they are unlikely to be identified as abuse victims or to get help. The authors note that screening practices for domestic violence victims “are ineffective and policy-driven interventions for identified victims are, at best, erratically implemented.”

Burnett LB, Adler J. Domestic violence. Emedicine 2009 August; http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/805546-overview
Family Violence Prevention Fund
Rhodes KV et al. Journal of General Internal Medicine 2011; doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1662-4
US Department of Justice