Thursday, April 20, 2000

Value of domestic violence reporting questioned

BY Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Women in Northern Kentucky appear less likely to tell doctors about domestic violence when they know up front that state law requires medical workers to pass those reports to state authorities.

        This finding comes from a study of 290 women conducted over the past two years by the Northern Kentucky Children's Advocacy Center. The results have re- ignited calls from women's advocates who say Kentucky should drop a domestic-violence mandatory reporting law that few other states maintain.

        “Kentucky is one of the last states in the country that still requires mandatory reporting. We've always been concerned that mandatory reporting can put our clients at increased risk,” said Mary Jo Davis, executive director of the Women's Crisis Center in Covington.

        Ohio and Indiana do not have such laws.

        The study involved women who had brought their children to pediatric offices at St. Luke East and St. Luke West hospitals for well-child check-ups. While there, the women were asked six questions about domestic violence — mod eled after national recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups.

        About half the women were specifically reminded about Kentucky's mandatory reporting law. The other half were not; knowledge of the law was assumed.

        When women were not reminded of mandatory reporting, 31 percent revealed an episode of domestic violence.

        Of those who were told up front that allegations of abuse would be reported, 21 percent revealed a domestic violence incident.

        The findings indicate that mandatory reporting may hurt more than it helps, said Dr. Robert Siegel, medical director of the Northern Kentucky Children's Advocacy Center.

        “I think (the law) needs serious re-evaluation. From a physician's standpoint, it would be easier not to have it,” Dr. Siegel said. “The negative aspects of the law outweigh the positive effects.”

        In response to national professional recommendations, most hospitals in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky routinely ask women whether they have been abused or threatened by a partner.

        But in Kentucky, doctors and nurses and others are required to pass abuse reports to a domestic violence team established by the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children.

        The domestic violence team is supposed to contact woman who make allegations to inform them about legal options, such as pressing charges with police, and where to find out about battered women's shelters, counseling or other services.


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