Intended for healthcare professionals

Primary Care

Reported frequency of domestic violence: cross sectional survey of women attending general practice

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 02 February 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:271
  1. Fiona Bradley, lecturer in general practicea,
  2. Mary Smith, research nurseb,
  3. Jean Long, lecturer in international health and developmenta,
  4. Tom O'Dowd, professor of general practice (todowd{at}
  1. a Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College Centre for Health Sciences, Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland,
  2. b Health Services Research Centre, Department of Psychology, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin 2, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to: T O'Dowd
  • Accepted 28 November 2001


Objectives: To determine exposure to violence by a partner or spouse among women attending general practice and its association with respondents' demographic and personal characteristics; frequency of inquiry about violence by general practitioners; and women's views on routine questioning about domestic violence by general practitioners.

Design: Cross sectional, self administered, anonymous survey.

Setting: 22 volunteer Irish general practices.

Participants: 1871 women attending general practice.

Main outcome measures: Proportion who had experienced domestic violence, severity of such violence, and context in which violence occurred.

Results: Of the 1692 women who had ever had a sexual relationship, 651 (39%, 95% confidence interval 36% to 41%) had experienced violent behaviour by a partner. 78/651 (12%) women reported that their doctor had asked about domestic violence. 298/651 (46%, 42% to 50%) women had been injured, 60 (20%) of whom reported that their doctor had asked about domestic violence. 1304/1692 (77%, 77% to 80%) were in favour of routine inquiry about domestic violence by their usual general practitioner. 1170 women (69%) reported controlling behaviour by their partner and 475 (28%) reported feeling afraid of their previous or current partner. Women who reported domestic violence were 32 times more likely to be afraid of their partner than women who did not report such violence.

Conclusions: Almost two fifths of women had experienced domestic violence but few recalled being asked about it. Most women favoured routine questioning by their practitioner about such violence. Asking women about fear of their partner and controlling behaviour may be a useful way of identifying those who have experienced domestic violence.

What is already known on this topic

What is already known on this topic Domestic violence is associated with physical and psychological ill health

In community surveys, one in four women have experienced such violence

Doctors rarely ask about it, and it is often not recognised even in women with obvious injuries

What this study adds

What this study adds Fear of partner and experiencing controlling behaviour were significantly associated with domestic violence

Anxiety is more strongly associated with domestic violence than depression

77% of all women were in favour of routine questioning about the issue by their usual general practitioner


  • Funding Health Research Board in Ireland.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Embedded ImageThe questionnaire is available as web extra

  • Accepted 28 November 2001
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