Middle-aged Women’s Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence Screening and Disclosure: “It’s a private matter. It’s an embarrassing situation”

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Journal of general internal medicine


Background: National guidelines indicate that healthcare providers should routinely screen women of reproductive age for experience of intimate partner violence. We know little about intimate partner violence (IPV) screening and disclosure experience among women older than reproductive age. Objective: To examine the perspectives of middle-aged women who had experienced past-year IPV regarding IPV screening and disclosure in the healthcare setting. Design: Individual semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted in-person as part of a larger study examining IPV screening and response services through the Veterans Health Administration. Participants: Twenty-seven women aged 45-64 (mean age 53) who experienced past-year IPV and received care at one of two Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Approach: Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. Data were sorted and analyzed using templated notes and line-by-line coding, based on codes developed by the study team through an initial review of the data. Themes were derived from further analysis of the data coded for "screening" and "disclosure" for respondents aged 45 and older. Key results: Barriers to disclosure of IPV to a healthcare provider included as follows: (a) feelings of shame, stigma, and/or embarrassment about experiencing IPV; (b) screening context not feeling comfortable or supportive, including lack of comfort with or trust in the provider and/or a perception that screening was conducted in a way that felt impersonal and uncaring; and (c) concerns about privacy and safety related to disclosure. Provider demonstrations of care, empathy, and support facilitated disclosure and feelings of empowerment following disclosure. Conclusions: Middle-aged women may benefit from routine IPV screening and response in the healthcare setting. Such interventions should be sensitive to concerns regarding stigma and privacy that may be prevalent among this population.

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