Domestic violence continues to be a prevalent problem in the United States today. Because of the number of individuals affected, it is likely that most healthcare professionals will encounter patients in their practice who are victims. Accordingly, it is essential that healthcare professionals are taught to recognize and accurately interpret behaviors associated with domestic violence. It is incumbent upon the healthcare professional to establish and implement protocols for early identification of domestic violence victims and their abusers. In order to prevent domestic violence and promote the well-being of their patients, healthcare professionals in all settings must take the initiative to properly assess all women for abuse during each visit and, for those women who are or may be victims, to offer education, counseling, and referral information.

Education Category: Ethics - Human Rights
Release Date: 08/01/2015
Expiration Date: 07/31/2018


This course is designed for all Florida healthcare professionals required to complete domestic violence education.

Accreditations & Approvals

NetCE is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. NetCE is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. NetCE has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6361. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. NetCE is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs. NetCE, #1092, is approved as a provider for social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) www.aswb.org through the Approved Continuing Education (ACE) Program. NetCE maintains responsibility for the program. ASWB Approval Period: 03/13/2016 to 03/13/2019. Social workers should contact their regulatory board to determine course approval for continuing education credits. NetCE is accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). NetCE complies with the ANSI/IACET Standard, which is recognized internationally as a standard of excellence in instructional practices. As a result of this accreditation, NetCE is authorized to issue the IACET CEU.

Designations of Credit

NetCE designates this enduring material for a maximum of 2 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 2 ANCC contact hour(s). NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 2.4 hours for Alabama nurses. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 1 NBCC clock hour(s). Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to 2 MOC points in the American Board of Internal Medicine's (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. Participants will earn MOC points equivalent to the amount of CME credits claimed for the activity. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABIM MOC credit. Completion of this course constitutes permission to share the completion data with ACCME. Social workers participating in this intermediate to advanced course will receive 2 Clinical continuing education clock hours, in accordance with the Association of Social Work Boards. NetCE is authorized by IACET to offer 0.2 CEU(s) for this program. AACN Synergy CERP Category B.

Individual State Nursing Approvals

In addition to states that accept ANCC, NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education in nursing by: Alabama, Provider #ABNP0353, (valid through December 12, 2017); California, BRN Provider #CEP9784; California, LVN Provider #V10662; California, PT Provider #V10842; Florida, Provider #50-2405; Iowa, Provider #295; Kentucky, Provider #7-0054 through 12/31/2017.

Individual State Behavioral Health Approvals

In addition to states that accept ASWB, NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the following state boards: Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners, Provider #0515; Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, CE Broker Provider #50-2405; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Social Workers, License #159.001094; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Licensed Professional and Clinical Counselors, License #197.000185; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Marriage and Family Therapists, License #168.000190; Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, Approval #3011; Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors, Approval #1121; Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Approval #425.

Special Approvals

This course fulfills the Florida requirement for 2 hours of Domestic Violence education every third renewal period. This activity is designed to comply with the requirements of California Assembly Bill 1195, Cultural and Linguistic Competency.

Course Objective

The purpose of this course is to enable healthcare professionals in all practice settings to define domestic violence and identify those who are affected by domestic violence in the United States. This course describes how a victim can be accurately diagnosed and identifies the community resources available in the state of Florida for domestic violence victims.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Define domestic violence and its impact on health care.
  2. Cite the general prevalence of domestic violence on a national and state level and identify state laws pertaining to the issue.
  3. Describe how to screen and assess individuals who may be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence, including the importance of conducting a culturally sensitive assessment.
  4. Identify community resources presently available for domestic violence victims and their perpetrators throughout Florida concerning legal aid, shelter, victim and batterer counseling, and child protection services.


Marjorie Conner Allen, BSN, JD, received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Florida, Gainesville, in 1984. She began her nursing career at Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics at the University of Florida, Gainesville. While practicing nursing at Shands, she gave continuing education seminars regarding the nursing implications for dealing with adolescents with terminal illness. In 1988, Ms. Allen moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she worked at Egleston Children’s Hospital at Emory University in the bone marrow transplant unit. In the fall of 1989, she began law school at Florida State University. After graduating from law school in 1992, Ms. Allen took a two-year job as law clerk to the Honorable William Terrell Hodges, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida. After completing her clerkship, Ms. Allen began her employment with the law firm of Smith, Hulsey & Busey in Jacksonville, Florida where she has worked in the litigation department defending hospitals and nurses in medical malpractice actions. Ms. Allen resides in Jacksonville and is currently in-house counsel to the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville.

Faculty Disclosure

Contributing faculty, Marjorie Conner Allen, BSN, JD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Division Planners

Ronald Runciman, MD

Jane C. Norman, RN, MSN, CNE, PhD

Alice Yick Flanagan, PhD, MSW

Division Planners Disclosure

The division planners have disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

About the Sponsor

The purpose of NetCE is to provide challenging curricula to assist healthcare professionals to raise their levels of expertise while fulfilling their continuing education requirements, thereby improving the quality of healthcare.

Our contributing faculty members have taken care to ensure that the information and recommendations are accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The publisher disclaims any liability, loss or damage incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents. Participants are cautioned about the potential risk of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into practice.

Disclosure Statement

It is the policy of NetCE not to accept commercial support. Furthermore, commercial interests are prohibited from distributing or providing access to this activity to learners.

Table of Contents

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#97921: Domestic Violence: The Florida Requirement

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Domestic violence continues to be a prevalent problem in the United States today. Because of the number of individuals affected, it is likely that most healthcare professionals will encounter patients in their practice who are victims. Accordingly, it is essential that healthcare professionals are taught to recognize and accurately interpret behaviors associated with domestic violence. It is incumbent upon the healthcare professional to establish and implement protocols for early identification of domestic violence victims and their abusers. In order to prevent domestic violence and promote the well-being of their patients, healthcare professionals in all settings should take the initiative to properly assess all women for abuse during each visit and, for those women who are or may be victims, to offer education, counseling, and referral information.

Victims of domestic violence suffer emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, all of which can result in both acute and chronic signs and symptoms of physical and mental disease, illness, and injury. Frequently, the injuries sustained require abused victims to seek care from healthcare professionals immediately after their victimization. Subsequently, physicians and nurses are often the first healthcare providers that victims encounter and are in a critical position to identify domestic violence victims in a variety of clinical practice settings where victims receive care. Accordingly, each healthcare professional should educate himself or herself to enhance awareness of the presence of abuse victims in his or her particular practice or clinical setting.

Specifically, healthcare professionals should be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with domestic violence. In addition, when family violence cases are identified, there should be a plan of action that includes providing information on, and referral to, local community resources related to legal aid, sheltering, victim counseling, batterer counseling, advocacy groups, and child protection.


Domestic violence, which is sometimes also referred to as spousal abuse, battering, or intimate partner violence (IPV), refers to the victimization of an individual with whom the abuser has or has had an intimate or romantic relationship. Researchers in the field of domestic violence have not agreed on a uniform definition of what constitutes violence or an abusive relationship. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines IPV as, "physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner." [1]. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, domestic violence is "a pattern of behaviors that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners or former partners to establish power and control. It may include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and economic abuse. It may also include threats, isolation, pet abuse, using children, and a variety of other behaviors used to maintain fear, intimidation, and power over one's partner" [2]. Florida law defines domestic violence as "any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member" [3]. Family or household members, according to Florida definition, must "reside in the same single dwelling unit, with the exception of persons who have a child in common" [3]. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It occurs in intimate relationships regardless of race, religion, culture, or socioeconomic status [2].

Whatever the definition, it is important for healthcare professionals to understand that domestic violence, in the form of emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and physical violence, is prevalent in our society. Because of the similar nature of the definitions, this course will use the terms "domestic violence" and "IPV" interchangeably.


Domestic violence is one of the most serious public health problems in the United States [4]. More than 27.3% of women and 11.5% of men 18 years of age and older have a lifetime history of IPV [5]. In Florida, the weighted lifetime prevalence of IPV (including rape, physical violence, and/or stalking) is 34.2% among women and 24.6% among men [4]. Although many of these incidents are relatively minor and consist of pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting, IPV resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths in the United States in 2014, with 205 deaths reported in Florida [7,8]. One of the difficulties in addressing the problem is that abuse is prevalent in all demographics, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, religious denomination, education, or socioeconomic status [2].

Victims of abuse often suffer severe physical injuries and will likely seek care at a hospital or clinic. The health and economic consequences of domestic violence are significant. Statistics vary from report to report, and due to the lack of studies on the national cost of domestic violence, the U.S. Congress funded the CDC to conduct a study to determine the cost of domestic violence on the healthcare system [9]. The 2003 CDC report, which relied on data from the National Violence Against Women Survey conducted in 1995, estimated the costs of IPV by measuring how many female victims were nonfatally injured; how many women used medical and mental healthcare services; and how many women lost time from paid work and household chores. The estimated total annual cost of IPV against women in the 1995 survey was more than $5.8 billion [9]. When updated to 2003 dollars, the amount was more than $8.3 billion annually. The costs associated with IPV at this time would be considerably more, but no further studies have been conducted [10]. It should be noted that the costs of any one victimization may continue for years; therefore, these statistics most likely underestimate the actual cost of IPV [9].

The national rate of nonfatal domestic violence against women declined 72% between 1993 and 2011 [11]. The rate of overall violent crime fell by nearly 60% in this same time period [11]. Studies reveal that several factors may have contributed to the reduction in violence, including a decline in the marriage rate and decrease of domesticity, better access to federally funded domestic violence shelters, improvements in women's economic status, and demographic trends, such as the aging of the population [13,14]. Of note, declines in the economy and stress associated with financial hardship and unemployment are significant contributors to IPV in the United States. Following the economic downturn in late 2008, there was a significant increase in the use of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2009, with more than half of victims reporting a change in household financial situation in the last year [15].


In response to troubling domestic violence statistics, Governor Lawton Chiles appointed a Task Force on Domestic Violence on September 28, 1993, to investigate the problems associated with domestic violence in Florida and to compile recommendations as to how the problems should be approached and ultimately resolved. On January 31, 1994, the Task Force issued its first report on domestic violence. This report recommended standards to accurately measure the extent of domestic violence and strategies for increasing public awareness and education. It identified programs and resources that are available to victims in Florida, made legislative and budgetary suggestions for needed changes, provided a methodology for implementing these changes, and identified areas of domestic violence that require further study.

As a result of this report, Florida enacted legislation during the 1995 session implementing various suggestions of the Task Force. Specifically, the Legislature amended Section 455.222 of the Florida Statutes to require that all physicians, osteopaths, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, midwives, psychologists, and psychotherapists obtain, as part of their biennial continuing education requirements, a one-hour continuing education course on domestic violence [17]. In June of 2006, Governor Jeb Bush signed into law House Bill 699. The bill, which went into effect July 1, 2006, changed the domestic violence continuing education requirement from one hour every renewal period to two hours every third renewal period.

In 1997, at the request of the Governor's Task Force, a workgroup was established by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to evaluate the feasibility of tracking incidents of domestic violence in the state [18]. This resulted in the creation of the Domestic Violence Data Resource Center (DVDRC). The original mission of the DVDRC was to collect information related to domestic violence and to report and maintain the information in a statewide tracking system [19]. Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams were established to examine those cases of domestic violence that resulted in a fatality and identify potential changes in policy or procedure that might prevent future deaths. The teams were comprised of representatives from law enforcement, the courts, social services, state attorneys, domestic violence centers, and others who may come into contact with domestic violence victims and perpetrators [20]. In 2000, the creation of Florida Statute 741.316 required the FDLE to annually publish a report based on the data gathered by the Fatality Review Teams [19]. Due to budgetary constraints, responsibility of compiling this data transferred to the Department of Children and Families in 2008 [21].

As part of Governor Jeb Bush's initiative, the "Family Protection Act" was signed into law in 2001. The act requires a 5-day mandatory jail term for any crime of domestic battery in which the perpetrator deliberately injures the victim. The law also makes a second battery crime a felony offense, treating offenders as serious criminals. Additional legislation, signed into law in 2002, includes Senate Bills 716 and 1974. Senate Bill 716 protects domestic violence victims by including dating relationships of six months in the definition of domestic violence laws. Senate Bill 1974 requires judges to inform victims of their rights, including the right to appear, be notified, seek restitution, and make a victim-impact statement. Governor Bush also created the Violence Free Florida campaign to increase public awareness of domestic violence issues [22].

In 2003, Governor Bush signed House Bill 1099, which transferred funding authority of the Florida Domestic Violence Trust Fund from the Department of Children and Families to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. According to the Domestic Violence in Florida 2010–2011 Annual Report to the Legislature, this has strengthened domestic violence services provided by streamlining the process of allocating funds [23].

In 2007, the Domestic Violence Leave Act was signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist [21]. This law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide guaranteed leave for domestic violence issues.

In 2015, the FDLE reported 107,666 domestic violence offenses [6]. In general, domestic violence rates have been declining since 1998. An estimated 18.6% of domestic violence incidents involved spouses and 29.8% involved cohabitants; 11.3% of the victims were parents of the offenders. Domestic violence offenses resulted in the death of 199 victims in Florida in 2015, a a number relatively unchanged since 2010 [8]. Domestic violence accounted for nearly 18% of the state's murders in 2015 [8].

In their 2016 Annual Report, Fatality Review Teams summarized 62 cases of domestic violence fatalities and near fatalities [49]. The most significant findings included the following observations [49]:

  • The perpetrators were predominantly male (95%) and had prior criminal histories, generally (50%) and for domestic violence specifically (47%).

  • 24% of perpetrators had a known "do not contact" order filed against them, and 22% of perpetrators had a known permanent injunction for protection against them filed by someone other than the victim.

  • Substance abuse by the perpetrator was identified in 47% of the cases and mental health disorders in 30%.

  • In most cases, neither the decedent nor perpetrator sought help from the various intervention programs available to them.

To obtain a copy of the Executive Summary of the 2016 Florida Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team Annual Report, please visit http://fcadv.org/sites/default/files/FACES%20OF%20FATALITY%20VI.pdf.


Healthcare professionals are in a critical position to identify domestic violence victims in a variety of clinical practice settings. Nurses are often the first healthcare provider a victim of domestic violence will encounter in a healthcare setting and should therefore be prepared to provide care and support for these victims. Although women are most often the victims, domestic violence extends to others in the household as well. For example, domestic violence includes abused men, children abused by their parents or parents abused by their children, elder abuse, and abuse among siblings [3].

Many victims of abuse sustain injuries that lead them to present to hospital emergency departments. Research has found that 49.6% of women seen in emergency departments reported a history of abuse and 44% of women who were ultimately killed by their abuser had sought help in an emergency department in the two years prior to their death [25,50]. Another study of 993 police-identified female victims of IPV found that only 28% of the women were identified in the emergency department as being victims of IPV [26]. These alarming statistics demonstrate that healthcare professionals who work in acute care, such as hospital emergency rooms, should maintain a high index of suspicion for battering of the patients that they see. Healthcare professionals who work in these settings should work with hospital administrators to establish and institute assessment mechanisms to accurately detect these victims.

For every victim of abuse, there is also a perpetrator. Like their victims, perpetrators of domestic violence come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions, and walks of life [27]. Accordingly, healthcare professionals should likewise be aware that seemingly supportive family members may, in fact, be abusers.


Because a gynecologist or obstetrician is frequently a woman's primary care physician, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women be routinely assessed for signs of IPV (i.e., physical and psychological abuse, reproductive coercion, and progressive isolation), including during prenatal visits, and providers should offer support and referral information for those being abused [28]. According to the CDC, IPV affects as many as 324,000 pregnant women each year [25]. A meta-analysis of 92 independent studies found that the average reported prevalence of emotional abuse during pregnancy was 28.4%, physical abuse was 13.8%, and sexual abuse was 8% [51]. As with all domestic violence statistics, these estimates are presumed to be lower than the actual incidence as a result of under-reporting and lack of data on women whose pregnancies ended in fetal or maternal death. This makes IPV more prevalent among pregnant women than some of the health conditions included in prenatal screenings, including pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes [25]. Because 96% of pregnant women receive prenatal care, this is an optimal time to assess for domestic violence and develop trusting relationships with the women. Possible factors that may predispose pregnant women to IPV include being unmarried, lower socioeconomic status, young maternal age, unintended pregnancy, delayed prenatal care, lack of social support, and use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs [25,51].

The overarching problem of violence against pregnant women cannot be ignored, especially as both mother and fetus are at risk. At this particularly vulnerable time in a woman's life, an organized clinical construct leading to immediate diagnosis and medical intervention will ensure that therapeutic opportunities are available to the pregnant woman and will reduce the potential negative outcomes [29]. Healthcare professionals should also be aware of the possible psychological consequences of abuse during pregnancy. There is a higher risk of stress, depression, and addiction to alcohol and drugs in abused women. These conditions may result in damage to the fetus from tobacco, drugs, and alcohol and a loss of interest on the part of the mother in her or her baby's health [16,30]. Possible direct injuries to the fetus may result from maternal trauma [25].

Control of reproductive or sexual health is also a recognized trend in IPV. This type of abuse includes trying to impregnate or become pregnant against a partner's wishes, refusal to use birth control (e.g., condoms, oral contraceptives), or stopping a partner from using birth control [4].


Children exposed to family violence are at high risk for abuse and for emotional damage that may affect them as they grow older. The Department of Justice estimates that of the 76 million children in the United States, 46 million will be exposed to some type of violence during their childhood [52]. Results of the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence indicated that 11% of children were exposed to IPV at home within the last year, and as many as 26% of children were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes [31]. Of those children exposed to IPV, 90% were direct eyewitnesses of the violence; the remaining children were exposed by either hearing the violence or seeing or being told about injuries [31]. Of note, according to Florida criminal law, witnessing domestic violence is defined as "violence in the presence of a child if an offender is convicted of a primary offense of domestic violence, and that offense was committed in the presence of a child under age 16 who is a family or household member with the victim or perpetrator" [32].

A number of studies indicate that child witnesses are at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, impaired development, aggressive behavior, anxiety, difficulties with peers, substance abuse, and academic problems than the average child [33,54,55]. Children exposed to violence may also be more prone to dating violence (as a perpetrator or a victim), and the ability to effectively cope with partnerships and parenting later in life may be affected, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation [34,56].

In addition to witnessing violence, various studies have shown that these children may also become direct victims of violence, and children who both witness and experience violence are at the greatest risk for adverse psychosocial outcomes [53]. Research indicates that between 30% and 60% of husbands who batter their wives also batter their children [35]. Moreover, victims of abuse will often turn on their children; statistics demonstrate that 85% of domestic violence victims abuse or neglect their children. The 2014 Crime in Florida report found that more than 19% of domestic homicide victims were children killed by a parent [8]. Teenage children are also victimized. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1980 and 2008, 17.5% of all homicides against female adolescents 12 to 17 years of age were committed by an intimate partner [36]. Among young women (18 to 24 years of age), the rate is 42.9%. Abused teens often do not report the abuse. Individuals 12 to 19 years of age report only 35.7% of crimes against them, compared with 54% in older age groups [37]. Accordingly, healthcare professionals who see young children and adolescents in their practice (e.g., pediatricians, family physicians, school nurses, pediatric nurse practitioners, community health nurses) should have the tools necessary to detect these "silent victims" of domestic violence and to intervene quickly to protect young children and adolescents from further abuse. Without such critical intervention, the cycle of violence will never end.


Abused and neglected elders, who may be mistreated by their spouses, partners, children, or other relatives, are among the most isolated of all victims of family violence. In a national study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in 2010, 4.6% of participants (community dwelling adults 60 years of age or older) were victims of emotional abuse in the past year, 1.6% physical abuse, 0.6% sexual abuse, 5.1% potential neglect, and 5.2% current financial abuse by a family member [38]. The estimated annual incidence of all elder abuse types is 2% to 10%, but it is believed to be severely under-measured. According to one study, only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported to the authorities [39].

The prevalence rate of elder abuse in institutional settings is not clear. However, in one nonprobability study, 36% of nursing and aide staff disclosed to having witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse by other staff members in the preceding year. When asked whether they themselves perpetrated physical abuse against an elderly resident, 10% admitted they had [40]. In a random sample survey, 24.3% of respondents reported at least one incident of elder physical abuse perpetrated by a nursing home staff member [57].

As healthcare professionals in Florida, which leads the nation in percentage of older residents, it is important to understand that the needs of older Floridians will increase as will the numbers of elder victims of domestic violence. Because elder abuse can occur in family homes, nursing homes, board and care facilities, and even medical facilities, healthcare professionals should remain keenly aware of the potential for abuse. When abuse occurs between elder partners, it is primarily manifested in one of two ways, either as a long-standing pattern of marital violence or as abuse originating in old age. In the latter case, abuse may be precipitated by issues related to advanced age, including the stress that accompanies disability and changing family relationships [41].

It is important to understand that the domestic violence dynamic involves not only a victim but a perpetrator as well. For example, an adult son or daughter who lives in the parents' home and depends on the parents for financial support may be in a position to inflict abuse. This abuse may not always manifest itself as violence, but can lead to an environment in which the elder parent is controlled and isolated. The elder may be hesitant to seek help because the abuser's absence from the home may leave the elder without a caregiver [41]. Because these elderly victims are often isolated, dependent, infirm, or mentally impaired, it is easy for the abuse to remain undetected. Healthcare professionals in all settings should remain aware of the potential for abuse and keep a watchful eye on this particularly vulnerable group.


Statistics confirm that domestic violence is predominantly perpetrated by men against women; however, there is evidence to suggest that women also exhibit violent behavior against their male partners [4]. Studies demonstrate approximately 5% of murdered men are killed by intimate partners [36]. It is persuasively argued that the impact on the health of female victims of domestic violence is generally much more severe than the impact on the health of male victims [42]. Approximately 512,770 women were raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner in 2008, compared to 101,050 men [58]. In addition, 3 out of every 10 women has been physically assaulted, raped, and/or stalked by an intimate partner, compared to 1 out of every 10 men [7]. Rape, non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, and stalking against men are primarily perpetrated by other men, while other forms of violence against men were perpetrated mostly by women [4]. Male victims of IPV experienced 3 victimizations per 1,000 boys and men 12 years of age or older in 1994, and this rate decreased by 64%, to 1.1 per 1,000, in 2010 [11]. Of all homicides committed against men between 1980 and 2008, 7.1% were committed by an intimate partner [36]. Although women are more often victims of IPV, healthcare professionals should always keep in mind that men can also be victimized and assess accordingly.


Domestic violence exists in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, and the rates are thought to mirror those of heterosexual women—approximately 25% [43]. However, women living with female intimate partners experience less IPV than women living with men [6]. Conversely, men living with male intimate partners experience more IPV than do men who live with female intimate partners [6]. In addition, 76% of all IPV homicide victims in 2013 were gay men [24]. This supports other statistics indicating that IPV is perpetrated primarily by men. A form of abuse specific to the gay community is for an abuser to threaten or to proceed with "outing" a partner to others [43,59].

Transgender individuals appear to be at particular risk for violence. According to a large national report, transgender victims of IPV were 1.9 times more likely to experience physical violence and 3.9 times more likely to experience discrimination than other members of the LGBT community [24].

Because of the stigma of being LGBT, victims may be reticent to report abuse and afraid that their sexual orientation or biological sex will be revealed. In one study, the three major barriers to seeking help were a limited understanding of the problem of LGBT IPV, stigma, and systemic inequities [59]. Many in this community feel that support services (e.g., shelters, support groups, crisis hotlines) are not available to them due to homophobia of the service providers. Unfortunately, this results in the victim feeling isolated and unsupported. Healthcare professionals should strive to be sensitive and supportive when working with homosexual patients.


Abuser characteristics have been studied far less frequently than victim characteristics. Some studies suggest a correlation between the occurrence of abuse and the consumption of alcohol. A man who abuses alcohol is also likely to abuse his mate, although the abuser may not necessarily be inebriated at the time the abuse is inflicted [44]. Domestic violence assessment questionnaires should include questions that explore social drinking habits of both victims and their mates.

Other studies demonstrate that abusive mates are generally possessive and jealous. Another characteristic related to the abuser's dependency and jealousy is extreme suspiciousness. This characteristic may be so extreme as to border on paranoia [12]. Domestic violence victims frequently report that abusers are extremely controlling of the everyday activities of the family. This domination is generally all encompassing and often includes maintaining complete control of finances and activities of the victim (e.g., work, school, social interactions) [12].

In addition, abusers often suffer from low self-esteem and their sense of self and identity is directly connected to their partner [12]. Extreme dependence is common in both abusers and those being abused. Due to low self-esteem and self-worth, emotional dependence often occurs in both partners, but even more so in the abuser. Emotional dependence in the victim stems from both physical and psychological abuse, which results in a negative self-image and lack of self-worth. Financial dependence is also very common, as the abuser often withholds or controls financial resources to maintain power over the victim [27].


There is no universal guideline for identifying and responding to domestic violence, but it is universally accepted that a plan for screening, assessing, and referring patients of suspected abuse should be in place at every healthcare facility. Guidelines should review appropriate interview techniques for a given setting and should also include the utilization of assessment tools. Furthermore, protocols within each facility or healthcare setting should include referral, documentation, and follow-up. This section relies heavily on the guidelines outlined in the Family Violence Prevention Fund's National Consensus Guidelines on Identifying and Responding to Domestic Violence Victimization in Health Care Settings; however, protocols should be customized based on individual practice settings and resources available [35]. The CDC has provided a compilation of assessment tools for healthcare workers to assist in recognizing and accurately interpreting behaviors associated with domestic violence and abuse, which may be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv/ipvandsvscreening.pdf [45].

Several barriers to screening for domestic violence have been noted, including a lack of knowledge and training, time constraints, lack of privacy for asking appropriate questions, and the sensitive nature of the subject [35]. Although awareness and assessment for IPV has increased among healthcare providers, many are still hesitant to inquire about abuse [46]. At a minimum, those exhibiting signs of domestic violence should be screened. Although victims of IPV may not display typical signs and symptoms when they present to healthcare providers, there are certain cues that may be attributed to abuse. The obvious cues are physical. Injuries range from bruises, cuts, black eyes, concussions, broken bones, and miscarriages to permanent injuries such as damage to joints, partial loss of hearing or vision, and scars from burns, bites, or knife wounds. Typical injury patterns include contusions or minor lacerations to the head, face, neck, breast, or abdomen and musculoskeletal injuries. These are often distinguishable from accidental injuries, which are more likely to involve the extremities of the body. Abuse victims are also more likely to have multiple injuries than accident victims. When this pattern of injuries is seen, particularly in combination with evidence of old injury, physical abuse should be suspected [44].

In addition to physical signs and symptoms, domestic violence victims also exhibit psychological cues that resemble an agitated depression. As a result of prolonged stress, various psychosomatic symptoms that generally lack an organic basis often manifest. For example, complaints of backaches, headaches, and digestive problems are common. Often, there are reports of fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, or loss of appetite. Great amounts of anxiety, guilt, and depression or dysphoria are also typical. Women who experienced IPV are also more likely to report asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes [4]. Healthcare professionals should look beyond the typical symptoms of a domestic violence victim and work within their respective practice settings to develop appropriate assessment mechanisms to detect victims who exhibit less obvious symptoms.

The unique relationship dynamics of the abuser and abused are not easily detected under the best of circumstances. They may be especially difficult to uncover in circumstances in which the parties are suspicious and frightened, as might be expected when a victim presents to the emergency department. The key to detection, however, is to establish a proper assessment tool that can be utilized in the particular setting and to maintain a keen awareness for the cues described in this course. Screening for IPV should be carried out at the entry points of contact between victims and medical care (e.g., primary care, emergency services, obstetric and gynecologic services, psychiatric services, and pediatric care) [35].

The key to an initial assessment is to obtain an adequate history. Establishing that a patient's injuries are secondary to abuse is the first task. Clearly, there will be times when a victim is injured so severely that treatment of these injuries becomes the first priority. After such treatment is rendered, however, it is important that healthcare professionals not ignore the reasons that brought the victim to the emergency department [35].


Healthcare providers have reported that even if routine screening and inquiry results in a positive identification of IPV, the next steps of assessing and referring are often difficult, and many feel that they are not adequately prepared [46]. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the goals of the assessment are to create a supportive environment, gather information about health problems associated with the abuse, and assess the immediate and long-term health and safety needs for the patient to develop an intervention [35].

Assessment of domestic violence victims should occur immediately after disclosure of abuse and at any follow-up appointments. Assessing immediate safety is priority. Having a list of questions readily available and well-practiced can help alleviate the uncertainty of how to begin to the assessment (Table 1). If the patient is in immediate danger, referral to an advocate, support system, hotline, or shelter is indicated [35].


Are you in immediate danger?
Is your partner at the health facility now?
Do you want to (or have to) go home with your partner?
Do you have somewhere safe to go?
Have there been threats or direct abuse of the children (if s/he has children)?
Are you afraid your life may be in danger?
Has the violence gotten worse or is it getting scarier? Is it happening more often?
Has your partner used weapons, alcohol or drugs?
Has your partner ever held you or your children against your will?
Does your partner ever watch you closely, follow you or stalk you?
Has your partner ever threatened to kill you, him/herself or your children?

If the patient is not in immediate danger, the assessment may continue with a focus on the impact of IPV on the patient's mental and physical health and the pattern of history and current abuse [35]. These responses will help formulate an appropriate intervention.


During the assessment process, a practitioner should be open and sensitive to the patient's worldview, cultural belief systems and how he/she views the illness [47]. This may reduce the tendency to over-pathologize or minimize health concerns of ethnic minority patients.

Pachter proposed a dynamic model that involves several tiers and transactions [48]. The first component of Pachter's model calls for the practitioner to take responsibility for cultural awareness and knowledge. The professional should be willing to acknowledge that he/she does not possess enough or adequate knowledge in health beliefs and practices among the different ethnic and cultural groups he/she comes in contact with. Reading and becoming familiar with medical anthropology is a good first step.

The second component emphasizes the need for specifically tailored assessment [48]. Pachter advocates the notion that there is tremendous diversity within groups. For example, one cannot automatically assume that a Cuban immigrant adheres to traditional beliefs. Often, there are many variables, such as level of acculturation, age at immigration, educational level, and socioeconomic status, that influence health ideologies. Finally, the third component involves a negotiation process between the patient and the professional [48]. The negotiation consists of a dialogue that involves a genuine respect of beliefs. It is important to remember that these beliefs may affect symptoms or appropriate interventions in the case of domestic violence.

Culturally sensitive assessment involves a dynamic framework whereby the practitioner engages in a continual process of questioning. By incorporating cultural sensitivity into the assessment of individuals with a history of being victims or perpetrators of domestic violence, it may be possible to intervene and offer treatment more effectively.


After the assessment is complete, the patient may or may not want immediate assistance or referral. It is important for healthcare providers to assure patients in a nonjudgmental manner that the decision of what they would like in terms of assistance is their choice and that the provider will help regardless of the decisions they are currently ready to make [35].

If the patient would like to immediately implement a plan of action, information for referral to a local domestic violence shelter to assist the victim and the victim's family should be readily available. The acute situation should be referred immediately to local law enforcement officials. Other resources in an acute situation include crisis hotlines and rape relief centers. After a victim is introduced into the system, counseling and follow-up are generally available by individual counselors who specialize in the care of battered women and their spouses and children. These may include social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, other mental health workers, and community mental health services. The goals are to make the resources accessible and safe and to enhance support for those who are unsure of their options [35].

In Florida, a 24-hour domestic violence hotline is available for toll-free counseling and information. The number is 800-500-1119. The counselors answering the toll-free line may refer the victim to her or his local domestic violence center. A list of Florida certified domestic violence centers organized by county and city may also be found on the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at http://fcadv.org/centers. As of 2016, Florida had 42 certified domestic violence centers that provide information and referral services, counseling and case management services, a 24-hour hotline, temporary emergency shelter for more than 24 hours, educational services for community awareness relative to domestic violence, assessment and appropriate referral of resident children, and training for law enforcement personnel.


It is imperative that healthcare professionals document all findings and recommendations regarding domestic violence in the victim's medical record, including a patient's denial of abuse, if applicable. If domestic violence is disclosed, documentation should include relevant history, results of the physical examination, findings of laboratory and other diagnostic procedures, and results of the assessment, intervention, and referral. The medical record can be an invaluable document in establishing the credibility of the victim's story when seeking legal aid [35].

Healthcare professionals should offer a follow-up appointment if disclosure of past or current abuse is present. Reassurance that assistance is available to the patient at any time is critical in helping to break the cycle of abuse [35].

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Evidence-Based Practice Recommendations Citations

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