Domestic violence is more common than you’d think. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, affects approximately 41% of women and 25% of men in their lifetime, according to the CDC.
Physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression against a partner can have negative adverse side effects, including injury, PTSD, fear, missing time from work, and even death. (Data from US crime reports suggest that around 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.)
Despite the prevalence of intimate partner violence, mandatory reporting laws for victims are distinctly different than those for elder abuse or child abuse and neglect.
While most states have reporting laws for medical professionals who treat gunshot wounds and knife wounds, many victims of domestic violence will not generally fall into one of those reporting categories.
Most state reporting laws fall under one of these four categories:
- States that require reporting of injuries caused by weapons
- States that mandate reporting of injuries caused in violation of criminal laws
- States that specifically mandate domestic violence reporting
- States that have no mandated reporting laws
States That Require Reporting of Injuries Caused by Weapons
According to Futureswithoutviolence.org, at least 40 states and the District of Columbia mandate reporting by health care providers if the patient has an injury that appears to have been caused by a gun, knife, firearm, or other deadly weapons. (States vary as to which deadly weapons trigger the reporting requirement.)
In some states, the requirement to report deadly weapon injuries applies only if the injury appears intentionally inflicted, criminal in nature, or is likely to result in death. States that require reporting of injuries caused by weapons include:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
States That Mandate Reporting of Injuries Caused in Violation of Criminal Laws
At least eighteen states and Washington D.C. require reports when there is reason to believe the patient’s injury may have resulted from an illegal act.
Some of these states indicate that the reporting requirement applies only to illegal acts rising to certain levels. For example, they specify that the illegal act must have caused serious or grave bodily injury, that there must have been use of a weapon in addition to the illegal act, or that the illegal act must appear to be of a certain nature. (AZ, CA, CO, DC, ID, IL, IA, MA, MN, NE, NH, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, UT, WV, WI)
At least seven states require healthcare providers to report injuries that they have reason to believe resulted from an act of violence, with some indicating that the injury must be grave or that the act must appear illegal before the requirement to report would apply. (FL, HI, MI, NE, NC, OH, TN)
Finally, at least eight states require reports under circumstances in which the injury appears intentionally inflicted (AK, AR, CO, GA, HI, ID, NV, OR), and in nine states the gravity of the injury relates to the decision to report. (AK, AZ, HI, IN, IA, KS, NY, NC, OH)
States That Mandate Domestic Violence Reporting
At least six states have mandatory reporting laws that specifically address domestic violence (intimate partner violence) or adult abuse. These provisions often appear in addition to deadly weapon or illegal act reporting requirements. Five of these states mandate reporting in certain instances of domestic violence, while one exempts victims of abuse from its general mandate to report certain injuries.
California: Health practitioners must report to the police if they provide medical services to a patient whom they know or reasonably suspect is suffering from a physical injury that was caused by a firearm or by “assaultive or abusive conduct” (defined to include twenty-four crimes). It is recommended that referrals to local services be given to domestic violence victims and that providers thoroughly document domestic violence in the medical record.
Colorado: Physicians are required to report to law enforcement if they attend or treat an injury caused by a weapon or an injury they have reason to believe involves a criminal act “including injuries resulting from domestic violence."
Kentucky: Any person having reasonable cause to suspect that an adult has suffered abuse, neglect, or exploitation, shall report to the Cabinet for Human Resources. The Cabinet must notify the police, initiate an investigation of the complaint, and make a written report of findings and recommendations. The Cabinet is allowed access to mental and physical health records of the adult if necessary to complete the investigation. The Cabinet can enter the private premises of the adult to investigate the need for protective services. If the adult does not consent, a search warrant may be issued upon a showing of probable cause of abuse. If a determination is made that protective services are necessary, the Cabinet shall provide such services except where the adult refuses them.
New Hampshire: A person treating or assisting another for a gunshot wound or any other injury believed to be caused by a criminal act is required to report, except if the injured person has been a victim of sexual assault or abuse, is over eighteen years of age, and objects to the release of this information to law enforcement. This exception does not apply if the person is also being treated for a gunshot wound or other serious bodily injury.
Rhode Island: In addition to a deadly weapon reporting provision, the statute requires medical providers to report domestic violence-related injuries only for data collection purposes. The reports are not to contain names or any identifying information. The domestic violence data is to be compiled and reported annually by the domestic violence training and monitoring unit of the court system.
States That Have No Mandated Reporting Laws
The Family Violence Prevention Fund has found no laws concerning domestic violence reporting requirements in five states: Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming.
States That Have Volunteer Reporting Requirements
A few states have voluntary reporting provisions where domestic violence is concerned. For example, a recently enacted Tennessee provision encourages healthcare providers to voluntarily report domestic violence injuries on a monthly basis to the Department of Health, Office of Health Statistics. The report is not to reveal the name or identification of the patient.
Laws in Mississippi and Pennsylvania specify that any person may report abuse.
Why Don’t More States Have Mandatory Domestic Violence Reporting Laws?
Almost every state has mandated reporting requirements in place to protect children and elders against abuse and neglect.
Why don’t more states have the same in place for reporting domestic abuse/ intimate partner violence?
The goal of mandatory reporting is to enhance the safety and well-being of the victim. However, many survivors of domestic abuse fear that reporting will put them—and their children—in harm’s way. Oftentimes, mandated reporting can put DV victim at risk of retaliation from their abusers. Violence typically escalates when survivors attempt to get outside help or to separate from their abusers.
Mandated reporting brings a particular set of ethical issues, as well.
According to The Family Violence Prevention Fund, mandatory reporting does not respect the autonomy of DV survivors.
“In domestic violence cases, patients are competent adults who should be granted the ability to make critical life decisions; if they believe calling the police will jeopardize their safety, then that opinion should be respected. These types of cases can be distinguished from child abuse cases, where the victim is a minor. Mandatory reporting not only impinges on the patient’s self-determination, but in the process perpetuates harmful stereotypes of battered women as passive and helpless. By taking away patient autonomy, mandatory reporting revictimizes battered patients: their relationships with the batterers were ones in which the batterers controlled the decisions in their lives.”
How to Get Domestic Violence Help Whether your state mandates DV reporting or not, it’s important to know where DV survivors can get the help and support they need to leave a potentially deadly situation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-799-7233.