October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  A recent World Health Organization study indicates that:

  • thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence;
  • most of this violence is intimate partner violence; and
  • globally as many as 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

While we grieve for victims of domestic violence, we must also remember that these senseless and tragic deaths are preventable.

Last year, the Institute of Medicine, Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Preventative Health Task Force endorsed, supported and encouraged that all women of child-bearing age be screened for intimate partner violence (IPV) and offered counseling and referral.

How to ask a patient about IPV:

  • Always ask the patient in private and, when required, only use trained interpreter services.
  • Ask during the health care visit when you have established a rapport with the patient.
  • Do not make any assumptions about who might be abused—abuse crosses all social economic backgrounds.

Ask in the context of their health care visit; avoid asking as a “check-off list question.” Consider using these questions and statements:

  • “I ask every woman I see about their intimate relationship because unhealthy relationships can affect your health.”
  • “You indicated you have been in a relationship for the past four years. Has your partner ever pushed, shove or otherwise physically hurt you? Has your partner ever choked you?”
  • If the patient states yes, ask the patient to share with you what happened and how they feel this event(s) is impacting them, and that whatever they share is totally confidential.
  • “Does your partner ever make you feel afraid or scared?”
  • If they say yes, ask the patient to give you an example.  “Can you tell me the worst thing that ever happened?”
  • Does your partner ever force you to have sex when you do not wish to? Does your partner allow you to make choices about your birth control?


  • Women’s CARE Clinic: if you feel that the violence is affecting your health, call 617-732-4806 for an appointment.
Annie Lewis-O’Connor, PhD, RN

Annie Lewis-O’Connor, PhD, RN

Article written by Annie Lewis-O’Connor, PhD, director, BWH Women’s CARE (Coordinated Approach to Recovery and Empowerment) Clinic