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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

The sensitivity and specificity of four questions (HARK) to identify intimate partner violence: a diagnostic accuracy study in general practice

Hardip Sohal, Sandra Eldridge and Gene Feder*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Health Sciences, Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, 2 Newark Street, London, E1 2AT, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2007, 8:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-8-49

Published: 29 August 2007



Intimate partner violence (IPV) including physical, sexual and emotional violence, causes short and long term ill-health. Brief questions that reliably identify women experiencing IPV who present in clinical settings are a pre-requisite for an appropriate response from health services to this substantial public health problem. We estimated the sensitivity and specificity of four questions (HARK) developed from the Abuse Assessment screen, compared to a 30-item abuse questionnaire, the Composite Abuse Scale (CAS).


We administered the four HARK questions and the CAS to women approached by two researchers in general practice waiting rooms in Newham, east London. Inclusions: women aged more than 17 years waiting to see a doctor or nurse, who had been in an intimate relationship in the last year. Exclusions: women who were accompanied by children over four years of age or another adult, too unwell to complete the questionnaires, unable to understand English or unable to give informed consent.


Two hundred and thirty two women were recruited. The response rate was 54%. The prevalence of current intimate partner violence, within the last 12 months, using the CAS cut off score of ≥3, was 23% (95% C.I. 17% to 28%) with pre-test odds of 0.3 (95% C.I. 0.2 to 0.4). The receiver operator characteristic curve demonstrated that a HARK cut off score of ≥1 maximises the true positives whilst minimising the false positives. The sensitivity of the optimal HARK cut-off score of ≥1 was 81% (95% C.I. 69% to 90%), specificity 95% (95% C.I. 91% to 98%), positive predictive value 83% (95% C.I. 70% to 91%), negative predictive value 94% (95% C.I. 90% to 97%), likelihood ratio 16 (95% C.I. 8 to 31) and post-test odds 5.


The four HARK questions accurately identify women experiencing IPV in the past year and may help women disclose abuse in general practice. The HARK questions could be incorporated into the electronic medical record in primary care to prompt clinicians to ask about recent partner violence and to encourage disclosure by patients. Future research should test the effectiveness of HARK in clinical consultations.