Screening for Sexual Abuse in Domestic Violence

Aug 21st, 1970

Continued from Frontline Fall 2010 issue...

...for severe injury and/or death at the hands of their partner. Most IPV victims who report to law enforcement, hospitals or comprehensive DV programs go through an intake process asking them about the abuses they have endured.  Questions about hitting, kicking, shoving, name calling, and threats of violence are common--some screenings go a step further and ask the victim if they’ve ever been raped by their partner. This is indeed a sign of progress but this singular question doesn’t account for the multiple forms of sexual abuse a victim may experience. The victim may not even recognize or acknowledge the term ‘rape’ as part of their experience.  A better idea is to incorporate more probative questions as part of screening process such as:
  • Has your partner ever forced you to have sex or threatened you with violence for refusing sex?
  • Has your partner ever forced you to have sex with others?
  • Have you been forced to perform sexual acts you are uncomfortable with?
  • Has your partner forced you to participate in pornographic pictures or video?
Questions like these allow providers to appropriately screen for rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation in violent relationships.  It also allows providers to effectively respond and make appropriate referrals. In the past, IPV professionals routinely dealt with reporting individuals from the waist up disregarding the unfortunate reality that many who were being physically abused in their relationships were also often sexually abused.  This created a gap in services for the person who experienced both. Injuries related to sexual abuse may not be readily seen by providers.  Lacerations, soreness, bruising and burning in the vaginal and anal areas as well as torn muscles, fatigue and vomiting are examples of injuries commonly associated with sexual abuse and are injuries that risk getting worse without necessary treatment. In fact, women who experienced both physical and sexual abuse tend to have more severe gynecological problems; and girls who reported both were 2 1/2 times more likely to be diagnosed with an STI.  Lack of treatment in these cases could lead to infertility, life threatening complications and/or death. Intimate partner violence and sexual assault are not the same issue but there is some overlap when we talk about stalking, dating violence, marital rape and incest. MCASA encourages our member programs, area DV programs, and non-traditional providers from around the state to learn more about the links between IPV and SA and to incorporate and/or strengthen their models of sexual abuse screening as a way to better serve their clients and their communities. Written by Kathy Ferguson MCASA-WOCN Program Manager For more information about domestic violence, you can also contact our friends at the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

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