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The Social Work Response to Domestic Violence

Social workers have been working with victims of domestic violence for years in the courts, the emergency rooms, and shelters. Domestic violence does not discriminate, it happens in every racial and ethnic community, as well as in every socioeconomic group. It seems incomprehensible that battered women stay in abusive relationships, however, many women are often held captive by their own sense of powerlessness and the overwhelming sole responsibility for the marriage and their children. The fear that if they leave they will have to care for themselves and their children alone creates feelings of depression and despair.

Assistance to battered women must take the form of a continuum of services to improve their economic and psychological independence. Social workers should be in the habit of screening for domestic violence and provide a plan to protect the victims safety. Research has shown that the prevalence and the health, social and economic costs of domestic violence require the attention of early identification and intervention.

In mental health settings, including substance abuse services, universal domestic violence screening of women and girls should be routine. Abuse has significant, lasting mental health effects that, if left undetected, would hinder care. Domestic violence is a significant risk factor for depression, PTSD, anxiety and substance abuse in women.

Currently, domestic violence is virtually impossible to measure due to the numerous complications, including societal stigma that stops victims from revealing abuse. Estimates, however, range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to 3.9 million women raped and or physically assaulted annually by an intimate partner. This creates an overwhelming need for social workers and other helping professionals to make screening a routine part of healthcare.

Social Work Summit on Violence Against Women (March 2002)

Practice Update from the National Association of Social Workers (July 2001)

***Click here to view the slide of "Social Work Practice within the field of Domestic Violence" by Fran Danis, PhD, ACSW Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, University of Missouri-Columbia. (Powerpoint Document

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