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Br J Gen Pract. 1996 Apr;46(405):239-42.

Domestic violence: a hidden problem for general practice.

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Department of General Practice, Medical Colleges of St Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospitals.


Domestic violence is a common problem that may affect more than a quarter of women. It is a complex area in which to undertake research. Studies often focus on selected populations and exhibit a diversity of design, making comparison difficult. This review focuses on physical violence by men against women partners or ex-partners, and exemplifies important issues for general practitioners. Domestic violence frequently goes undetected. This may be the result of doctor's fears of exploring an area perceived as time-consuming, where knowledge is lacking and where they feel powerless to 'fix' the situation. Women may not reveal that they are experiencing violence, sometimes because doctors are unsympathetic or hostile. Nevertheless, women wish to be asked routinely about physical abuse and want to receive immediate advice and information about their options if necessary. Women experience a range of health and social problems in association with domestic violence, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and pregnancy complications. However, none of these features is specific enough to be useful as an indicator of violence. Therefore, doctors should routinely ask all women direct questions about abuse. This recommendation can be incorporated into guidelines, which should be implemented widely in the UK, to improve the care of women experiencing domestic violence. In parallel with this, the educational needs of general practitioners should be addressed. Further research is needed to establish the prevalence of domestic violence in women presenting to general practice and to investigate how the problem is currently being addressed. If progress is to be made in tackling domestic violence, action within primary care is just one part of this: a fundamental change in the attitudes of men towards women is required.

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