Screening women for intimate partner violence: a systematic review to update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation

Ann Intern Med. 2012 Jun 5;156(11):796-808, W-279, W-280, W-281, W-282. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-156-11-201206050-00447. Epub 2012 May 7.


Background: In 2004, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force determined that evidence was insufficient to support screening women for intimate partner violence (IPV).

Purpose: To review new evidence on the effectiveness of screening and interventions for women in health care settings in reducing IPV and related health outcomes, the diagnostic accuracy of screening instruments, and adverse effects of screening and interventions.

Data sources: MEDLINE and PsycINFO (January 2002 to January 2012), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (through fourth quarter 2011), Scopus, and reference lists.

Study selection: English-language trials of the effectiveness of screening and interventions, diagnostic accuracy studies of screening instruments, and studies of any design about adverse effects.

Data extraction: Investigators extracted data about study populations, designs, and outcomes and rated study quality by using established criteria.

Data synthesis: A large fair-quality trial of screening versus usual care indicated reduced IPV and improved health outcomes for both groups, but no statistically significant differences between groups. Fifteen fair- and good-quality studies evaluated 13 screening instruments, and six instruments were highly accurate. Four fair- and good-quality trials of counseling reported reduced IPV and improved birth outcomes for pregnant women, reduced IPV for new mothers, and reduced pregnancy coercion and unsafe relationships for women in family-planning clinics. Fourteen studies indicated minimal adverse effects with screening, but some women experienced discomfort, loss of privacy, emotional distress, and concerns about further abuse.

Limitation: Trials were limited by heterogeneity, lack of true control groups, high loss to follow-up, self-reported measures, and lack of accepted reference standards.

Conclusion: Screening instruments accurately identify women experiencing IPV. Screening women for IPV can provide benefits that vary by population, while potential adverse effects have minimal effect on most women.

Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Domestic Violence* / prevention & control
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sexual Partners*