Each year four million women are severely assaulted by boyfriends, husbands, and other men they know. One-third of the women who visit doctors' offices or hospitals for emergency treatment are victims of domestic violence. Nearly one-quarter of American women will be abused by their current or former partner at some point in their lives. Domestic violence has become the leading cause of injury for women between the ages of 15 and 44. Despite these cruel facts, doctors rarely ask patients about violence at home.
This summer the American Medical Association acknowledged that violence on the homefront has reached epidemic levels and urged doctors to routinely screen their female patients for it--an attempt to "take the issue of domestic violence out of the shadows and out of the closet," according to Surgeon General Antonia Novello, a supporter of the new AMA guidelines. "Domestic violence is rampant, and doctors are part of the problem," Novello said. "We have to retrain some of us to believe that domestic violence with a fist is as important as violence with a gun."
Marie Fortune, author of Is Nothing Sacred?, a book on sexual abuse in the church, praised the AMA's move because "it represents an acknowledgment by a major institution in our society that there is a problem and that practitioners have a responsibility to deal with it at the point of entry." She urged that doctors receive more training on the issue, since "many doctors don't have the basic skills to handle this problem." "A real response will come when people's consciousness is raised and they start acting on it in their practice," Fortune told Sojourners.