Fatal Attraction: A Domestic Violence Screen Test

Maryland police adopted a screen test that reduces domestic violence homicides, but will the Violence Against Women Act receive enough funding to support it?
By Staff, Utne Reader
September/October 2012
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The concept is shockingly simple: an 11-question domestic violence screen test given by police responding to domestic abuse calls.

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As homicide rates have dropped across the U.S., lethal domestic violence has proven more difficult to prevent. Each year, 1,600 women are killed by a significant other or an ex—a number that accounts for nearly half of all female homicides. Though an escalating series of abuses is often reported to police leading up to a homicide, officers without enough evidence to make an arrest can do little more than hand a woman the number of a local shelter. Meanwhile, women who have gradually adapted to abuse may not realize that the violence has become life-threatening.

According to The New Republic, police and academics in Maryland may have found a way around these problems, halting the most serious cases of domestic abuse. The concept is shockingly simple: an 11-question domestic violence screen test given by police responding to domestic abuse calls. Some questions seem obvious: has he threatened to kill you? Others are subtler: do you have a child he knows isn’t his? If the woman “screens in,” she is alerted that other women in her situation have been killed. If she accepts help, she can speak with someone at a local shelter from a police cell phone.

The lethality screen is based on decades of research led by Jaquelyn Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins University. After establishing a set of reliable predictors to assess risk-level in abusive households, Campbell worked with Maryland police at the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence to develop the screen. Its use has almost certainly contributed to the state’s 40 percent drop in domestic violence homicides. The domestic violence screen test is gaining notoriety in other states as well, but with increased strain on shelters and the Violence Against Women Act’s funding up for review, the next obstacle may be financing this lifesaving measure.

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