To determine the prevalence of domestic violence against mothers in a pediatric emergency department and the relationship of their children to the abusers.


Cross-sectional survey of a convenience sample of mothers seeking treatment for their children.


An urban pediatric emergency department.


A total of 157 mothers with children <3 years of age. Women were excluded if older children or partners were present.


A total of 52% of women reported histories of adult physical abuse, 21% reported adult sexual abuse, and 28% reported childhood sexual abuse. A total of 10% of women were in abusive relationships in the past year. Victims of adult physical abuse were more likely to report histories of adult sexual abuse (relative risk [RR]: 4.93) or childhood sexual abuse (RR: 3.13). Intimate partners perpetrated 67% of physical abuse and 55% of sexual abuse. Relatives perpetrated 66% of childhood sexual abuse. Women who revealed histories of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to report adult sexual abuse (RR: 4.93). A total of 40% of the perpetrators of adult physical abuse, 73% of the perpetrators of past year physical abuse, and 10% of the perpetrators of adult sexual abuse had regular contact with their victims' children.

Health care providers screened only 21% of the women for past violence. Victims of domestic violence were no more likely to have been screened than those without histories of physical or sexual abuse.


Mothers of young patients in a pediatric emergency department are often victims of domestic violence. Perpetrators are often close relatives and thus place the victims' children at risk for abuse and for the psychological trauma of witnessing violence. Given the prevalence of domestic violence, families may benefit from routine violence screening and interventions in pediatric emergency departments.

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