Screening For Abuse

It is important to keep safety as a priority in the interview so that a woman feels comfortable disclosing and not raw and vulnerable when the conversation concludes. Screening often occurs based on a continuum of involvement with the client. The depth of questioning about abuse will be based on the comfort level of the client as well as the type of service in which she is engaged. Questions asked at a first contact with clients would differ from those asked during ongoing support when there has been time to develop a greater sense of trust between the professional and the client. Questions regarding abuse should be posed to a client when she is alone so as not to compromise her safety.

Crucial pieces of information when asking about abuse

  • Has the woman ever experienced abuse?
  • What type(s) of woman abuse (sexual, check emotional, prostate physical, online financial, institutional, war-trauma)?
  • Has there been more than one abuser? Differentiate between the type(s) of abuse and the abuser(s). For example, a woman may have experienced childhood sexual abuse and her abuser at the time was her maternal uncle; however she is currently experiencing financial abuse from her intimate partner.
  • Is the abuse a current issue or did it occur in the past? If in the past, how long ago?
  • What developmental stage was the woman at when she experienced the abuse (childhood, adolescence or adulthood)?
  • Are there current safety concerns for the woman and/or her children?

Responding to Abuse Disclosure

After acknowledging and validating the woman’s experience with empathy and compassion, it is important to ask the following questions in order to effectively provide safety plan options to your client.

If she has experienced abuse, the next pieces of information to ask about are:
  • Does the client still have contact with the abuser(s)?
  • Is the client currently at risk of experiencing abuse? (see section on Safety Planning)
  • Has the client received support or is she receiving support related to the abuse?
  • Have children been exposed to the abuse? Are her children at risk? (Question for the professional: Is there a duty to report to child protection services?)

A Word on Documentation

Once there is a disclosure of abuse, the client record should include:

  • The disclosure(s) of abuse and the client’s statements regarding the impact of the abuse on her mental health / substance use and or problem gambling (make use of the generic Screening for Abuse Form - attached in this section)
  • Referrals to appropriate community services
  • A copy of the client’s safety plan or details of the discussion between staff and client regarding her safety plan
  • Duty to Report information

Be sure to distinguish between professional observations and client reports. Always avoid subjective statements and speculations that might undermine a woman’s credibility.