Validity of the ACTS intimate partner violence screen in antenatal care: a cross sectional study

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BMC Public Health


Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a major public health problem with harmful consequences. In Australia, there is no national standard screening tool and screening practice is variable across states. The objectives of this study were to assess in the antenatal healthcare setting: i) the validity of a new IPV brief screening tool and ii) women’s preference for screening response format, screening frequency and comfort level. Methods: One thousand sixty-seven antenatal patients in a major metropolitan Victorian hospital in Australia completed a paper-based, self-administered survey. The survey included four screening items about whether they were Afraid/Controlled/Threatened/Slapped or physically hurt (ACTS) by a partner or ex-partner in the last 12 months; and the Composite Abuse Scale (reference standard). The ACTS screen was presented firstly with a binary yes/no response format and then with a five-point ordinal frequency format from ‘never’ (0) to ‘very frequently’ (4). The main outcome measures were test statistics of the four-item ACTS screening tool (sensitivity, specificity, predictive values, and area under the curve) against the reference standard and women’s screening preferences. Results: Twelve-month IPV prevalence varied depending on the ACTS response format with 8% (83) positive on ACTS yes/no format, 12.8% (133) positive on ACTS ordinal frequency format and 10.5% (108) on the reference Composite Abuse Scale. Overall, the ACTS screening tool demonstrated clinical utility for the ordinal frequency format (AUC, 0.80; 95% CI = 0.76 to 0.85) and the binary yes/no format (AUC, 0.74, 95% CI = 0.69 to 0.79). The frequency scale (66%) had greater sensitivity than the yes/no scale (51%). The positive and negative predictive values were 56 and 96% for the frequency scale and 68 and 95% for the yes/no scale. Specificity was high regardless of screening question response options. Half (53%) of the women categorised as abused preferred the yes/no scale. Around half of the women (48%, 472) thought health care providers should ask pregnant women about IPV at every visit. Conclusions: The four-item ACTS tool (using the frequency scale and a cut-off of one on any item) is recommended for written self-administered screening of women to identify those experiencing IPV to enable first-line response and follow-up.

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