Saving Our Women: Are We Really Prepared to Address Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is unfortunately a growing public health concern in the United States.  The National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found approximately 1.5 million women are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year in the United States.  In 2005, 1,510 deaths were a result of IPV of which 78% were female.  The increasing number of women who are being treated for injuries and emotional issues related to IPV has incited controversial debate among clinicians and health professionals in the medical community to consider routinely screening women for IPV.  Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a recommendation outlining insufficient evidence to recommend for or against screening of women for IPV over a decade ago, the medical and public health community are once again left to sort through the costs and benefits of yet another complex health issue to save our women.

While the majority of individuals in the health field are concerned about the greater good of the people and establishing a set of health standards that will ultimately prevent catastrophic, life-altering events for all, it seems likely that routine screening for IPV would create more problems than benefits.  A study in the Journal of Women’s Health found there is a lack of evidence suggesting early treatment produces better health outcomes for asymptomatic women, or those who lack any signs or symptoms of the condition.  Consequently, it seems likely clinicians and health care providers who already have limited time and resources would be implementing routine IPV screening practices based more on theory than scientific evidence.  Additionally, if a woman were found to be a victim of IPV as a result of the screening, the physician would need to have sufficient contacts and resources for additional assistance outside of the physician’s office (i.e. shelters, support groups, social workers) and ensure there is a follow-up (something we don’t always do in the U.S.).  It could also be that even after the woman is diagnosed, she may not be ready or willing to use the available services to ultimately end the abuse.  I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about women going back to their partners who have physically and/or emotionally abused them for years.  Research has found that women in violent relationships may progress through various stages of emotional and cognitive changes before taking any behavioral steps to improve the situation.  Moreover, routine IPV screening could increase feelings of stigmatization and anxiety for women.  Therefore, physicians would have to be willing to provide the comfortable, compassionate setting to allow women to discuss such a sensitive topic.  Routine screening for IPV would not only place additional responsibilities on health care providers, but it would also require more training and increased levels of cultural competence to ensure all women who are screened are free of judgment, feel safe, and have access to the resources and follow-up they need to end IPV and prevent any future occurrences.  The question still remains if health care providers are sufficiently prepared and ready to undertake all the responsibilities to help victims of IPV, particularly with the current shortfalls providers are already facing.  So, while it would great to identify women experiencing IPV, we need to know we have the resources to help them and not put them in further danger.

IPV is a significant women’s health issue that cannot be ignored.  While routine screening has yet to be proven effective, more research needs to be done to determine how screening affects women’s health outcomes.  To begin making a difference now, we can increase awareness by organizing more educational campaigns, creating a supportive environment in health settings with posters and literature that are inviting and encourage women to discuss IPV, and partnering with domestic violence advocacy groups across the country to establish events and open forums to determine what the women would like to see happen.  Women need to be more involved in the decisions and policies that affect their overall health, so it is necessary to establish a platform for them to exercise their voice.  This may also empower women to speak about other issues affecting their health.  Establishing partnerships between professionals across health and psychosocial disciplines, conducting more scientific research, and empowering women to be strong, resilient individuals can improve health outcomes and ultimately determine if routine screening is indeed beneficial for all stakeholders.





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  • pnayak87

    I agree…health professionals, traditional and non-traditional, must communicate their practices and experiences and share a consistent methodology to screen for IPV. With that said, this is a heavy task, it takes time to train professionals, time during appointments, but more importantly this can place an emotional toll.

    Women empowerment is critical to this issue. Women can lead the way to changing the rates of IPV. Women can educate one another and help their neighbors, friends, and sisters out of the IPV cycle. One change maker in this arena can make a large difference, imagine if each person reading this post acted in some way to induce change, what a difference we all could make, collectively!

  • drsowole

    It is important that women work together to make IPV a nation and global wide public health issue. The reason this issue has been sweep under the rug is because too many women ignore the facts and signs. I think it is important to establish a system that will protect all IPV victims. Screening would and could only do so much.  I agree that screening women will increase feelings of stigmatization and anxiety for women. The first step is to make sure that all women understand the severity of the issue and proceed from that point. Once IPV becomes an issue that everyone can discuss, then the issue will be less complicated to deal with.

  • freshtamohammad

    Great post!! I also think empowering women plays a very important role in battling this issue, but I think prevention/educational programs should also be directed towards young men as well. If we can make men understand at a young age the devastating effects of IPV, then maybe we can decrease the number cases of IPV.

  • kgkline

    While IPV screening methods can be flawed and in some cases ineffective, physician and other health care providers can and should play a significant role in identifying and helping IPV victims. As health professionals it is their responsibility to do so. I agree that the methods for screening must be evaluated and redefined. Through evaluation of current interventions, research should seek to determine future best practices for IPV screening. Interventions can only be successful if communities provide their medical professionals with the resources required to provide culturally sensitive care to IPV victims.  Researchers must compare the outcomes of screening for IPV across various cultural groups and regions.  The healthcare system is greatly flawed in that it does not allow physicians the time needed to thoroughly address IPV related issues. Yes, like you said, the solution lies in policy reform, social change, education, and empowerment of women. However, change at this level takes time. Thus, we must begin at the grass roots level and work directly with medical professionals, women’s resource centers, law enforcement and other groups to find solutions.