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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 08:56 GMT
Domestic abuse 'widespread' - study
Domestic violence victims are often not identified
Domestic violence victims are often not identified
Nearly half of women have suffered domestic violence, two new reports suggest.

The two studies, carried out in Dublin and East London and published in the British Medical Journal, also indicate many doctors may be failing to identify domestic abuse victims.

Both studies found about 40% of women questioned had experienced physical or verbal abuse in a relationship.

But only 4-5% had been asked by their GP if they had been hit, injured or abused by their partner.

We encourage clinicians to be more aware of the possibility of violence in the lives of patients

Professor Gene Feder, Institute of Community Health Sciences
And the East London study found just 17% of those who had experienced violence had had it recorded in their medical records.

Asking women whether they have been subjected to violence or are afraid of their partner have been suggested as ways of identifying those at risk.

But about one in five women in both studies said it would not be acceptable for doctors to ask about violence in relationships.

Fear link

Researchers in Ireland carried out a survey across 22 GP surgeries of almost 1,700 women over 16 who had ever had a sexual relationship.

Of the 651 women who had experienced one or more violent incidents, just 12% said their doctor had asked about their partner threatening them.

The survey found women who reported domestic violence were much more likely to be afraid of their partner, and to have been shouted or screamed at than women who did not report such violence.

The team, led by Fiona Bradle, from Trinity College Centre for Health Sciences at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin, wrote in the BMJ: "For GPs and doctors in A&E, asking women about fear of their partner and controlling behaviours may be an acceptable and effective way of identifying those who are experiencing domestic violence."

High risk categories

The second study, carried out by researchers from Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London at 13 general practices in Hackney, east London, surveyed 1,035 women.

It found that women were at higher risk of physical violence if they had been pregnant within the last 12 months.

Divorced or separated women, those under 45, and unemployed women were also at higher risk of physical violence in their current relationship.

Professor Gene Feder of Queen Mary's Institute of Community Health Sciences said: "The high incidences of physical violence found in our research confirms that domestic violence is a serious health issue for many women and their children.

"Most women experiencing domestic violence are not identified in their medical records.

"We encourage clinicians to be more aware of the possibility of violence in the lives of patients, and to offer support, general advice and information about agencies that can provide help."

Nicola Harwin, director of the charity Women's Aid, told BBC News Online she was in favour of screening for domestic violence by health professionals.

"I think we owe it to women to ask," she said.

She added: "Maybe they could take place once a year, or when a woman goes for a smear, or when indicators such as bruising or depression are there."

The Women's Aid helpline number is 08457 023468.

The BBC's Graham Satchell
speaks to Ruby, who suffered from domestic violence
Professor Gene Feder, report author
"GPs should be more willing to ask their patients about domestic violence"
Dr Rosemary Lenoard, GP
and Davina James-Hanman, Greater London Domestic Violence Project
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