Domestic Violence is a Social Problem and the Role of Nurses in Detection

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Updated: Aug 25, 2023
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Women are often victims of domestic abuse. According to Robinson (2010), 18-25% of women seen in the Emergency Department are victims of intimate partner abuse, and only 5% are detected by healthcare workers. There is a great opportunity for improvement in the detection of those suffering from domestic abuse. ER nurses may be the first person to address the issue with the victim and advocate for her, which means it is crucial that the nurse is aware of what signs and willing to address this sensitive topic with the patient.

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Challenges in Addressing Domestic Abuse: Barriers and Concerns

Nurses will ask their patients personal questions regarding bowel and bladder functions and sexual activity but seem to shy away from the probing questions regarding domestic abuse. In the study conducted by interviewing 13 emergency rooms, nurses determined that there are three common reasons that nurses are hesitant to further investigate the possibility that a patient is a victim of abuse. They are:

  1. Myths and Stereotypes. It is often assumed that even if abuse is suspected and confirmed, there will be a lack of follow-up on the patient’s part once the patient leaves the ER. There is also the thought that abuse isn’t a health problem but a social problem and not something to be addressed by the ED nurse.
  2. Demeanor. Several nurses interviewed admitted they only screened patients who had behaviors they would expect to see in someone who was experiencing abuse.
  3. Frustrations. Some nurses felt frustration knowing that even if they did address the topic of abuse and offer suggestions for follow-up, they knew that it was not something that could be resolved quickly.

Although the nurses interviewed for this study did admit to several barriers to screening for domestic abuse, they did also report that there was satisfaction gained when they were able to identify a patient who was experiencing domestic abuse and able to aid them in finding resources to leave their current situation (Robinson, 2010). It is important that nurses continue to screen for and identify these patients and advocate for them.

Providing Resources and Support

There are several hotlines that can assist women in seeking shelter and protection from an abusive partner, including Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Hotline: 800-897-5464, National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233, and YWCA 24-hour Crisis Line 801-537-8600.


  1. Robinson, R. (2010). Myths and Stereotypes: How registered nurses screen for intimate partner violence. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 36(6), 572-576. DOI:
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Domestic Violence is A Social Problem and the Role of Nurses in Detection. (2023, Jun 19). Retrieved from