for Domestic Violence
A Guide for Professionals
inquiring about abuse may seem difficult at first, recognizing
that identifying abuse is an important, legitimate, and potentially
lifesaving task can help professionals overcome their initial
hesitation. Professionals can help decrease a battered person’s
potential discomfort by framing questions in ways that let
her/him know that you take domestic violence seriously and
that help is available.
It may feel awkward to introduce the subject of abuse, particularly
if there are no obvious indications a woman is being abused.
The following are examples of ways you can introduce the issue.
- “We know domestic violence is a very common problem.
About 25% of women in this country are abused by their partners.
Has that ever happened to you?”
- “Because domestic violence is common in women’s
lives, I make it a practice to ask women I see here about
- “I don’t know if this is a problem for you,
but many of the women I see here are dealing with abusive
relationships. Some are too afraid or uncomfortable to bring
it up themselves, so I’ve started asking about it routinely.”
- “Some of the lesbians and gay men we see here are
hurt by their partners. Does your partner ever try to hurt
However you initially raise the issue of domestic violence,
it is important to include direct and specific questions.
- “Did someone hit you? Who was it? Was it your partner?”
- “Has your partner or ex-partner ever hit you or
physically threatened to hurt you or someone close to you?”
- “Does your partner ever try to control you by threatening
to hurt you or your family?”
- “Has your partner ever forced you to have sex when
you didn’t want to? Has your partner ever refused to
practice safe sex?”
- “Does your partner frequently belittle you, insult
you, and blame you?”
- “Has he/she ever tried to restrict your freedom
or keep you from doing things that were important to you
(like going to school, working, seeing your friends or family).”
- “Do you feel controlled or isolated by your partner?”
- “Do you ever feel afraid of your partner? Do you
feel you are in danger? Is it safe for you to go home?”
- “Is your partner jealous? Does he/she frequently
accuse you of infidelity?”
In some settings, it may be appropriate to start the inquiry
with an indirect question before proceeding to more direct
questions. The following are some examples of this approach.
- “Have you been under any stress lately? Are you
having any problems with your partner? Do you ever argue
or fight? Do the fights ever become physical? Are you ever
afraid? Have you ever gotten hurt?”
- “You mentioned that your partner loses his temper
with the children. Can you tell me more about that? Has he
ever hit or threatened to physically harm you or the children?”
- “How are things going in your relationship/marriage?
All couples argue sometimes. Are you having fights? Do you
- “You mentioned that your partner uses alcohol/drugs.
How does he/she act when intoxicated? Does your partner’s
behavior ever frighten you? Does he/she become violent?”
- “Like all couples, gay couples have various ways
of resolving their conflicts. How do you and your partner
deal with conflicts? What happens when you disagree? What
happens when your partner doesn’t get his/her way?”
If the person does not acknowledge abuse:
If she/he says that abuse is not occurring but you are still
concerned about abused, it is appropriate to offer resources
and support. Voice your concerns. She/he may feel comfortable
listening without directly acknowledging the abuse. In this
case it is still helpful to offer some information about abuse,
provide a referral sheet or phone numbers, and to encourage
her/him to contact resources in the community.
This document was adapted from the publication entitled, “Improving
the Health Care System’s Response to Domestic Violence:
A Resource Manual for Health Care Providers,” produced
by the Family Violence Prevention Fund in collaboration with
the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Written
by Carole Warshaw, M.D. and Anne L. Ganley, Ph.D., with contributions
by Patricia Salber, M.D.