Intimate partner violence and pregnancy: screening and intervention

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Abstract

In the first part of this review, we provided currently accepted definitions of categories and subcategories of intimate partner violence and discussed the prevalence and health impacts of intimate partner violence in nonpregnant and pregnant women. Herein we review current recommendations for intimate partner violence screening and the evidence surrounding the effectiveness of intimate partner violence interventions. Screening for intimate partner violence may include exclusively identification of victims of intimate partner violence or both the identification of and intervention for victims. Until recently, many professional organizations did not recommend universal screening for intimate partner violence because of a lack of evidence of effectiveness of screening, lack of evidence demonstrating that screening is not harmful, and/or a lack of consensus regarding the most effective screening tool. The lack of evidence supporting an intervention posed an additional barrier to screening. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has been a staunch advocate for universal intimate partner violence screening, even when other groups either did not endorse screening or recommended it only for high-risk women. Recent published data confirm that screening is more reliable than usual care in identifying victims of intimate partner violence, both during pregnancy and in nonpregnant women. Likewise, recent published data show that there are no apparent harms of screening for intimate partner violence and that the act of screening may have an empowering effect on women and improve their relationship with and trust in their health care providers. Despite these findings, the implementation rate of intimate partner violence screening remains low. Most encouraging are the recent data showing that interventions performed after screening for intimate partner violence are effective in reducing depression symptoms and episodes of violence as well as improving some outcomes of pregnancy. Although there remains a lack of consensus regarding which screening tool may be the most effective, we exhort all obstetrician-gynecologists to screen all women for intimate partner violence at regular intervals and to familiarize themselves with available community resources to assist those women who have been identified as experiencing intimate partner violence through screening.

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