Mothers’ Comfort with Screening Questions about Sensitive Issues, Including Domestic Violence

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Purpose: To assess patient ratings of comfort alone and in front of children with 5 domestic violence (DV) screening questions designed with less graphic language compared with questions about other sensitive issues.

Methods: A sample of mothers (n = 200), including a small sample of Spanish-speaking women, were recruited from community locations. Mothers rated their perceptions of comfort for answering 13 sensitive issue screening questions (including sexual risk, substance abuse, depression, and DV questions). Logistic regression was performed to analyze participants’ characteristics with respect to summary comfort scores. In addition, 40 mothers were asked to talk about their comfort in answering the DV questions. These interviews were audiotaped and analyzed.

Results: Mothers preferred to answer all questions alone. Comfort with answering the DV screening questions in front of their children was higher than comfort with sexual risk or depression questions and was similar to comfort with substance abuse questions. Latina mothers had more discomfort with the DV questions than other ethnicities.

Conclusions: Although mothers were more comfortable with answering sensitive questions alone than in the presence of children, this may not be feasible in busy offices. General DV questions may be appropriate to ask in front of children as an initial screen.