Domestic Violence

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

How is domestic violence assessed?

Unfortunately, although assessing whether a man or woman is being abused in their relationship is quite manageable, less than one in 20 doctors do so routinely. Despite these difficulties, it is known that questions that are most effective in assessing domestic violence are open-ended as opposed to those asking for yes or no answers (for example, "How do you and your partner tend to disagree with each other?" versus "Does your spouse hit you?"). Indirect questions about things like how many emergency-room visits, injuries, or accidents they have had this year are more likely to be answered candidly than are direct questions about the cause of each injury. As with any sensitive or potentially painful topic, questions about domestic violence are answered truthfully more often when the person asked is alone with the professional, as opposed to being asked with their partner (the potential batterer), child, or other family member present during the discussion.

How is intimate partner violence treated?

Getting and keeping the victim of domestic violence safe is an essential part of treating domestic abuse. Many legal and mental-health professionals who work with victims recommend the development of safety plans, both for home and in the workplace. Such a plan includes encouraging the victim to keep a charged cell phone in his or her possession at all times, maintaining active peace, protective, or restraining orders against the batterer, keeping a copy of the order at all times, along with distributing copies of the order to the victim's supervisor, workplace reception area, and security, as well as to schools and day-care providers for children. It is important for battered men and women to realize that abusers sometimes escalate in their abusiveness when first served with a protective order and to take appropriately heightened safety precautions. Other elements of a safety plan may include the victim changing his or her work site, parking, or work schedule, having an emergency contact person, and establishing danger signals to alert neighbors or coworkers that the victim is in immediate danger.

One well-known approach to treating domestic abuse families is the Duluth Model. It is also called the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) and focuses on women as the victims and men as the perpetrators of intimate partner violence. This treatment model takes the approach of empowering women by providing them information, resources, and support, which has been found to significantly decrease the violence in victims' lives over time. It also uses legal resources as a means of keeping women safe and giving consequences to males who engage in battering. Regarding specific treatment for batterers, compliance with multiple treatment sessions may decrease the likelihood that domestic violence perpetrators repeat the behavior but these results continue to require research due to the small numbers of perpetrators studied so far.

Having professionals provide victims of domestic violence with information about domestic-violence shelters and other housing, financial, and other service supports in the community has been found to greatly decrease the amount of violence that victims of intimate partner abuse experience after leaving the abuser. For couples with whom alcoholism or other excessive alcohol use is an issue, diagnosis of that illness and marital therapy that has alcoholism as a focus has also been found to be effective.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2015

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  • Domestic Violence - Warning Signs and Symptoms

    What types of domestic abuse did you or a friend experience, and what were the warning signs?

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  • Domestic Violence - Safety Plans

    As a victim of domestic violence, a safety plan is essential. What is yours or your friend's?

  • Domestic Violence - Laws

    Please discuss legal action or protection that has assisted you with partner abuse.

  • Domestic Violence - Prevention

    In what ways have you helped prevent domestic abuse, either personally or for a friend or relative?

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  • Domestic Violence - Getting Help

    Which groups or organizations have helped you or a friend get support for domestic violence?


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