Intended for healthcare professionals


Routinely asking women about domestic violence

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 04 December 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1345

Inquiry may be acceptable in different healthcare environments and to different women

  1. Adrian A Boyle, honorary specialist registrar in emergency medicine (Boylea{at}
  1. Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2

    EDITOR—Taket et al debated the value of routinely asking about domestic violence1. Although no one would disagree that domestic violence is a major health problem and that health care offers opportunities to identify a largely hidden problem, the statement that routine inquiry in healthcare is acceptable to women is far from proved.

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    Work from primary care studies, including the authors' own work, has shown that sizeable proportions of women, ranging from 51% to 15%, object to routine inquiry about domestic violence23.

    The adverse consequences of routine inquiry to a woman who found it unacceptable should not be underestimated. A dysfunctional consultation could result, and the healthcare professional would become extremely reluctant to conduct future inquiries.

    Interestingly, similar work from the prenatal setting indicates a much higher rate of acceptability4. The reasons for this are not clear, but may be related to age, the increased feelings of responsibility that pregnant women feel, or the status of the healthcare professional. More work is needed to identify in which healthcare environments routine inquiry is acceptable and the characteristics of women who find routine inquiry unacceptable.


    • Competing interests None declared


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