Objective: To determine the incidence, 1-year prevalence, and cumulative prevalence of domestic violence (DV) among female emergency department (ED) patients.
Design: Descriptive written survey.
Setting: Two teaching EDs, two hospital walk-in clinics, and one private hospital ED in Denver, Colo.
Participants: Of 833 women presenting during 30 randomly selected 4-hour time blocks, 648 (78%) agreed to participate. Most respondents were young (median age, 34 years) and unemployed (62%); half (49%) had annual household incomes less than $10,000.
Main outcome measures: Domestic violence was defined as an assault, threat, or intimidation by a male partner. Acute DV (incidence) and past DV exposure (1-year prevalence and cumulative prevalence) were determined.
Results: The incidence of acute DV among the 418 women with a current male partner was 11.7% (95% confidence interval [CI], 8.7% to 15.2%). Only 11 (23%) of these 47 women subjected to acute DV presented for care because of trauma, and only six (13%) either told staff about DV or were asked about DV by ED professionals. Among 230 women without current partners, 13 (5.6%) reported an episode of DV within the previous 30 days. For the entire sample, the cumulative lifetime prevalence of DV exposure was 54.2% (95% CI, 50.2% to 58.1%). Women exposed to acute or prior DV were more likely than unexposed women to have made suicide attempts (26% vs 8%; P < .001) and to report excessive ethanol use (24% vs 13%; P = .001).
Conclusions: The incidence of acute DV is not as common among women visiting an ED as previously reported, although the cumulative prevalence of DV is strikingly high. Women who have experienced DV are seldom identified by ED professionals.