Screening and Routine Inquiry

Some agencies, particularly medical settings, may have universal screening procedures, and many medical and other professional organizations have supported universal screening of patients. Other settings, even those dealing with known high risk populations, such as homeless women and substance abusers, may or may not have universal screening or policies for routine inquiry. Routine inquiry implies asking about IPV without using a complete screening protocol.

  • A recent review article (Phelan, 2007) documents the benefits of routine inquiry, as a "potential for primary and secondary prevention regardless of disclosure." (p. 202).
  • The goals are that your client is aware of your openness to hearing about IPV, understands its relation to their own and their children's well-being, and receives relevant information and referrals. Bring it up, show concern, and give information. Disclosure is NOT the goal.
  • It is not a mistake to ask whether someone feels safe in their relationship and to provide resources. Most people will not be offended by your showing concern for their well-being. This is true even for survivors who might not be ready to talk with you about their situation.
  • Avoid "loaded" words. People who are dealing with domestic violence usually do not define their situations as "abuse" or "domestic violence". It is better to ask about behaviors, rather than to use a label. For example, you can ask:

    • What happens when you and your partner have a disagreement?
    • Have you ever been afraid of your partner?
    • Is there anyone in your life who is threatening or harming you?
  • Connect your questions to the person's reasons for being with you. For instance:

    • As you deal with the stress of unemployment, how are you and your husband able to support each other? Are there times when it is difficult?
    • Given your illness, how is your family doing in managing the stress?
    • How is your wife able to support your sobriety? What happens when she gets upset with your drinking?
  • Ask questions that elicit broad responses
    • Try to get as full a picture of the relationship and the survivor's supports as possible. This will help you with safety planning and with determining how you can best help the individual with being safe.
  • If the person describes a situation that seems abusive, make appropriate referrals to specific domestic violence resources (see Unit 7).
    • People often do not follow up with referrals. It is useful to maintain your relationship even as you refer the person out, e.g. "let me know how it goes."
    • Referrals to specific named people are more effective than referrals to organizations.
    • If the client is willing, you can initiate the contact with the DV resource while the client is with you.
  • Also, ask more specific questions about what happens in the relationship in case immediate safety planning is needed (see unit 5 for danger assessment).
    • How often does your partner scare you?
    • What was the scariest time you have had with your partner?
    • Have you ever felt afraid you would be seriously injured or killed?
    • Has your partner ever hit you or hurt you physically?
    • Does your partner have access to weapons? Has your partner ever threatened you with weapons?
    • Do you feel safe to go home today?