Letters to the Editor

Intimate Partner Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Am Fam Physician. 2021 Jan 1;103(1):6-7.

To the Editor: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is exacerbating domestic violence in the United States. The term domestic abuse encompasses different forms of abuse, including intimate partner violence (IPV). In the United States, one in four women and one in 10 men experience some form of IPV.1 These rates are expected to increase in response to social distancing measures because survivors are isolated with their perpetrator for longer periods of time. In March, U.S. police departments reported an increase in domestic violence calls as high as 27% after stay-at-home orders were implemented.2 We are writing to offer suggestions on how family physicians can mitigate this urgent issue during telemedicine visits.

  1. Screen every patient for IPV. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening all women of childbearing age for IPV. There are limited data on screening for IPV in men.3 Examples of screening tools for IPV are available in a previous American Family Physician article.4 Dialogue should begin by asking if the patient feels safe and valued in their relationship.4 When video is available, physicians should recognize nonverbal indicators of abuse, such as avoidance of eye contact or suspicious injuries on the head, neck, or forearms. During telephone visits, physicians should be sensitive to the patient's tone of voice because minimizing injuries and seeming fearful or evasive are other indictors of abuse.

  2. Prioritize the patient's privacy. Screen for IPV without the patient's partner or children present, and reassure patients of their confidentiality rights.4 Identify the preferred method of communication before the telemedicine visit. Confirm if the patient can speak privately and safely. Some perpetrators monitor personal accounts, phone calls, or internet history.1 Physicians should teach patients how to clear their internet and phone histories if requested.

  3. Use alternative methods of communication if needed. If a patient cannot speak openly during a telemedicine visit, ask only yes or no questions. The STAT (Slapped, Threatened, and Throw) screening tool exclusively uses yes or no questions. Consider nonverbal modes of communication, such as messaging through the health system's electronic portal. Physicians can direct patients to a safe chat room of the National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://thehotline.org. Patients can also text “HOME” to 741741 to communicate directly with a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line. If there is immediate danger, advise patients to call 911.

  4. Refer patients who screen positive for IPV to community resources. Referral to community resources can reduce psychological harms from IPV.5 Physicians can search for local shelters at https://www.domesticshelters.org, for resources by state at https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/get-help/state-resources, and for resources to use during COVID-19 at https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/get-updates-information-covid-19/.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


show all references

1. Smith SG, Zhang X, Basile KC, et al.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 data brief – updated release. November 2018. Accessed June 30, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf...

2. Boserup B, McKenney M, Elkbuli A. Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic [published online April 20, 2020]. Am J Emerg Med. Accessed June 30, 2020. https://www.ajemjournal.com/article/S0735-6757(20)30307-7/pdf

3. US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and abuse of vulnerable adults: US Preventive Services Task Force final recommendation statement. JAMA. 2018;320(16):1678–1687.

4. Dicola D, Spaar E. Intimate partner violence. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(8):646–651. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/1015/p646.html

5. Krasnoff M, Moscati R. Domestic violence screening and referral can be effective. Ann Emerg Med. 2002;40(5):485–492.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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