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Fears of disclosure and misconceptions regarding domestic violence reporting amongst patients in two US emergency departments


Patients often do not disclose domestic violence (DV) to healthcare providers in emergency departments and other healthcare settings. Barriers to disclosure may include fears and misconceptions about whether, and under what circumstances, healthcare providers report DV to law enforcement and immigration authorities. We sought to assess undocumented Latino immigrants (UDLI), Latino legal residents/citizens (LLRC) and non-Latino legal residents/citizens (NLRC) beliefs about disclosure of DV victimization to healthcare providers and healthcare provider reporting of DV to law enforcement and immigration authorities. From 10/2018-2/2020, we conducted this survey study at two urban emergency departments (EDs) in California. Participants, enrolled by convenience sampling, responded to survey questions adapted from a previously published survey instrument that was developed to assess undocumented immigrant fears of accessing ED care. Our primary outcomes were the proportions of UDLI, LLRC and NLRC who knew of someone who had experienced DV in the past year, whether these DV victims were afraid to access ED care, reasons DV victims were afraid to access ED care, and rates of misconceptions (defined according to current California law) about the consequences of disclosing DV to healthcare providers. Of 667 patients approached, 531 (80%) agreed to participate: 32% UDLI, 33% LLRC, and 35% NLRC. Of the 27.5% of respondents who knew someone who experienced DV in the past year, 46% stated that the DV victim was afraid to seek ED care; there was no significant difference in this rate between groups. The most common fears reported as barriers to disclosure were fear the doctor would report DV to police (31%) and fear that the person perpetrating DV would find out about the disclosure (30.3%). Contrary to our hypothesis, UDLI had lower rates of misconceptions about healthcare provider and law enforcement responses to DV disclosure than LLRC and NLRC. Fear of disclosing DV and misconceptions about the consequences of disclosure of DV to healthcare providers were common, indicating a need for provider, patient, and community education and changes that lower barriers to help-seeking.

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