Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Mental Health

Screening for Domestic Violence in Mental Health Settings

Do not assume that all abusers are men or that all victims are women.
Asking about Abusiveness

Our usual ways of understanding heterosexual domestic violence, combined with traditional ideas about gender, can stop you from recognizing female abusers and helping male victims.  Rather than rely on gender stereotypes, you should ask both men and women about both their partner’s behavior and their own, and pay attention to the behavioral and non-verbal cues you get while they are talking with you.  Recognize that most abusers are male, but do not assume that all abusers are men or that all victims are women.

Screening for abusiveness is particularly important with LGBTQ people seeking service, because there is a heightened risk of abusers posing as victims and accessing shelter.  “What would happen if we offered the wrong services to the wrong person? We could place the survivor in danger or in jail and potentially send the message that it was their fault the abuse happened. We could also place the abuser in support services that validate the abuser and tell them they are not to blame for the abuse. We might place the abuser in a confidential shelter or help the abuser get a restraining order against a survivor. This could help the abuser find the survivor or turn a survivor away from services that they need. If we give the wrong services to the wrong person because we are not screening, people get hurt.”1

After hearing whatever the client tells you about being abused, you can ask tactfully about their own behavior.  Again – put the questions in context. 

Pay attention to red flags for abusiveness.

Recognize the limits of your knowledge. There is no way to know for sure that someone is not abusive to their partner, because batterers are skilled manipulators.

  1. The Network/La Red (2010). Open Minds, Open Doors:  Transforming Domestic Violence Programs to Include LGBTQ Survivors, p 48