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Domestic Abuse

Reducing partner violence: Johns Hopkins program shows promise in helping pregnant women

School of Nursing researcher Phyllis Sharps helped develop the DOVE program

An intervention program developed by Phyllis Sharps of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is showing success in reducing partner violence for pregnant women.

Phyllis Sharps

Image caption: Phyllis Sharps

The program, called DOVE, provides resources and screenings to empower perinatal women who are victims of violence from their intimate partners.

Sharps, the associate dean for community programs and initiatives at the School of Nursing, has worked on DOVE with researchers at the University of Virginia. Grants totaling $4.5 million from the National Institutes of Health have supported their research.

DOVE—a rough acronym for "Domestic Violence Enhanced Visitation Program"—is an education-based supplement to home visiting programs that target low-income, high-risk mothers. In such programs, community health workers or nurses typically visit the mothers prenatally and then after childbirth for two years.

A recent study by Sharps and her team, published in the Journal of Women's Health, compared DOVE participants with women enrolled in standard-protocol home visitation programs. All of the women were experiencing perinatal intimate partner violence.

The study found a significant reduction in partner violence over time with DOVE participants.

"Babies of mothers who experience violence are more likely to be born premature, small in gestational size, and suffer cognitively and emotionally as they grow. This is not something we can overlook."
Phyllis Sharps, JHU researcher

"The focus of DOVE is on empowering women and giving them the resources they need to make their own decisions regarding safety," Sharps said. "Once they have those tools, they can continue to use them and find ways to better their situation."

The program is brochure-based, providing information on cycles of violence and safety planning measures. The women also complete a danger assessment that weighs their risk of domestic homicide.

DOVE was first tested in Missouri, Virginia, and Baltimore City, and has already been adopted in various Missouri health departments. Sharps and Linda Bullock, the study's co-investigator from the University of Virginia, have been visiting Capitol Hill to advocate for its continued expansion. They're also planning a future study to assess whether women screened with iPads or tablets are more likely to divulge abuse.

"Domestic violence screening among pregnant women is not routine, and yet the adverse effects on mother and baby tell us more needs to be done," Sharps says. "Babies of mothers who experience violence are more likely to be born premature, small in gestational size, and suffer cognitively and emotionally as they grow. This is not something we can overlook."

Sharps recently received an honor from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research for advancing team science in nursing.

Throughout her career, Sharps had led teams of researchers in medicine, public health, social work, and nursing. The overarching focus of her research is on the effects of intimate partner violence on the physical and emotional health of pregnant women, infants, and very young children.

Sharps also recently won the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award in Education and Research from the Association of Black Nursing Faculty.

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