‘No one deserves to be hurt’: WVU researcher develops toolkit to help victims of domestic violence

*This story was updated on Thursday, May 11, with the addition of a link to a brief online form to request a copy of the toolkit. 

Just as there’s no typical victim of domestic violence, the need to raise awareness and offer resources is universal. Danielle Davidov—a researcher with the West Virginia University School of Public Health—and her collaborators are developing research recommendations and a toolkit that will serve as a blueprint on ways to partner with survivors and other stakeholders to improve domestic violence screening processes within the healthcare setting.

As part of the project WV AWARE (or “West Virginia Asking Women About Relationship Experiences”), Davidov worked with a diverse team of partners—including other researchers, healthcare providers, law enforcement officers, legislators and domestic violence survivors—to improve the way patients are asked about domestic violence and how their providers can respond when patients report being harmed by a partner.

“Providing universal education and empowerment is where things are headed,” Davidov said. “Confidential, comprehensive assessment versus a one-time screening can reduce safety risks for patients and help them not feel targeted. It puts the ball back in their court. You’re saying, ‘You’re the expert in your own life. You know what’s best for you.’”

For example, the needs of a woman without children who lives alone, has a full-time job and has an abusive partner might not be identical to those of a stay-at-home mom who has a newborn baby and lives with an abusive spouse. And if a woman has just started dating someone who—unbeknownst to her—will one day become abusive, she may benefit from a wholly different intervention.

“There is growing recognition that the way screening is done in healthcare settings is not typically patient-centered,” Davidov, an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said. “There is much room for improvement.” 

Danielle Davidov, second from right, speaks on a panel during Coffee, Consent, and Condoms, held on April 5 as part of National Public Health Week. (WVU Photo/Kayla Gagnon)

With that shortcoming in mind, the WV AWARE team created a collaborative partnership with people who have experienced domestic violence and have been treated in clinical settings. Their goal was to prepare survivors and other stakeholders to become integral members of research teams.

The team engaged over 120 West Virginia stakeholders between 2016 and 2022. Through in-person and online forums, workshops and survivor panel presentations to local and national audiences, WV AWARE arrived at a survivor-centered research agenda. This agenda includes outcomes from screening that matter to survivors and ways to measure those outcomes.

Davidov said the real-world experiences of stakeholders, including survivors and their families, is critical in developing healthcare interventions that reduce harm from domestic violence.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute funded WV AWARE’s work to develop the research suggestions as well as a toolkit outlining how they conducted their stakeholder-driven, collaborative work.

“The toolkit is, to the best of our knowledge, the only one focused on engaging stakeholders and survivors in research related to screening and assessment in healthcare,” Davidov said, “It presents a compilation of the work we’ve done together over the past six or so years. It outlines how we’ve engaged patients—in this case, women—who have experienced domestic violence and have had experiences in healthcare. Because folks doing this type of work often feel like it’s a big leap to engage, not only survivors of trauma, but busy professional stakeholders, the toolkit provides our processes and purposeful engagement strategies as a blueprint.”

The “blueprint” includes information about how the team empowered survivors and key stakeholders to be active participants in the research process. Davidov said the goal is to move toward assessing confidential ways for clinicians to discuss domestic violence with their patients, offer support and make referrals when needed and educate all patients about domestic violence, even if they haven’t experienced it yet.

One approach providers might use to normalize the conversation is to say, “I talk to all of my patients about abuse,” Davidov said. “If anyone’s hurting you, that’s not okay. No one deserves to be hurt.”

Davidov and her colleagues plan to share their toolkit with anyone interested in patient-centered or community-based research who wants to recruit, engage and sustain partnerships with diverse stakeholder groups.

These considerations aren’t just theoretical. During the 15 minutes that a doctor may spend meeting with a patient, about 300 people across America will have been abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As for next steps, Davidov said the team is focused on broad dissemination of the toolkit and research agenda.

“Our goal is to transform the toolkit content into an interactive, online format and partner with others to host webinars and provide continuing education opportunities,” she said. “We hope our lessons learned may help others doing similar work and can advance knowledge and improve practice surrounding domestic violence screening and assessment.”

To request the toolkit or additional information, please complete this online form


CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health
304.293.1699; nikky.luna@hsc.wvu.edu