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November 2021

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Screening for violence during pregnancy

A Royal Women’s Hospital study has proven the effectiveness of a simple screening tool for family violence for use in antenatal care.

More than 1,000 women who completed routine antenatal screening were part of the study.

Each answered four ACTS questions – whether they felt afraid, controlled, threatened or had been slapped or physically hurt.

Director of the Centre for Family Violence Prevention at The Women’s, Kelsey Hegarty said making sure hospitals asked the right questions during screening was critical with between eight and 12 per cent of pregnant women disclosing family violence during their antenatal appointment.

‘We now have the evidence base to conclude that this simple screening tool works well as part of antenatal care,’ said Professor Hegarty.

‘Not only do the ACTS questions include some of the behaviours of what family violence looks like for those who are unsure, it’s also accurate in ruling out family violence in a simple yes or no format.

‘This enables clinicians to confidently direct more focus to those who screen positive to any of the questions for further assessment and follow-up.

‘We also found that clinicians can be confident that they are unlikely to offend women or interrupt rapport-building.

‘Women, both those who have experienced abuse and those who haven’t, found the tool very acceptable, with 82 per cent feeling that the questions should be asked more than once during their pregnancy.’

Director of prevention of family violence at The Women’s, Jenny Chapman said screening was a vital component of a considered approach to how hospitals identified and responded to family violence.

‘It is widely known that violence against women is a serious issue with tragic consequences in Australia – we see evidence of this first-hand at The Women’s every day,’ Ms Chapman says.

‘Screening tools, scripting and resources for clinicians – as well as extensive training for healthcare workers across the state – are just a few of the initiatives we have been leading here at The Women’s to ensure the response to family violence is as good as it can be within the hospital setting.’