Past domestic violence predicts future risk for women

August 01, 2001

Screening tests may help identify women at risk for domestic violence, according to a new study.

"It is well known that partner violence is seldom an isolated event; more often, violence is repeated and escalates over time," says lead study author Jane Koziol-McLain, R.N., Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. "We found that positive replies to screening questions forecasted future violence."

Several health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend domestic violence screening, but until this study, no one has examined whether screening actually helps pinpoint those women at highest risk for future abuse.

As part of a randomized telephone survey of more than 700 Colorado women, a brief screening test was used to ask participants whether they have experienced partner violence, felt unsafe around anyone or had the police visit their homes because of violent disputes.

Over the next four months, the researchers made follow-up phone calls to more than 400 of the study participants, nearly 10 percent of whom had experienced or perceived a threat of domestic violence.

Those who had screened positive for violence were nearly nine times more likely to be victims of domestic violence over the next four months, the researchers found.

The study results are published in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The women at highest risk were those who screened positive and who had recently separated from their spouse: 67 percent of these women experienced partner violence during the follow-up period.

"Even though abused women separate from their partners, they do not automatically become safe," says Koziol-McLain. Other researchers have also noted this association between separation and partner violence.

Koziol-McLain and colleagues suggest that women should be asked about their marital status during screening to best identify those at highest risk for partner violence.

Many healthcare practitioners fail to recognize symptoms of domestic violence or fail to offer counseling or other support to those women identified as abuse victims, the investigators say.

"These errors of omission may contribute to continued risk for patients as well as for their children," says Koziol-McLain.
The study was supported by funding from a NIH National Research Service Award and the Emergency Nurses Association Foundation.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine and the American College of Preventive Medicine, is published eight times a year by Elsevier Science. The Journal is a forum for the communication of information, knowledge and wisdom in prevention science, education, practice and policy. For more information about the Journal, contact the editorial office at 619-594-7344. For copies of the article, contact the Center for the Advancement of Health at 202-397-2829 or e-mail

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