Client Violence toward Social Workers: A Practice and Policy Concern for the 1990s

By Newhill, Christina E. | Social Work, September 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Client Violence toward Social Workers: A Practice and Policy Concern for the 1990s


Newhill, Christina E., Social Work


After police officers, social workers run the highest risk of work-related violence directed at them (Kipper, 1986). Because of the nature of social work, which often involves aspects of social control, some clients display hostility and violence. Furthermore, in some situations budget cuts and understaffing have led to increased vulnerability of social workers to violence (Hiratsuka, 1988; Petrie, Lawson, & Hollender, 1982; Schultz, 1987, 1989).

In the United States during the past five years, several social workers have been killed and scores more have been injured in the course of their work. Robbyn Panitch, a 26-year-old social worker in Los Angeles County, was stabbed to death by a client in her office at Santa Monica Mental Health Center (Simon, 1989). Panitch was talking to her fiance on the telephone when a client burst into her office and attacked her with a knife. Her fiance, hearing her screams over the phone, immediately called the employees at the front desk, who notified the police. By the time two male employees were able to disarm the client, Panitch had been stabbed 31 times in the face and neck. She died two hours later.

In Pittsburgh, 27-year-old Linda Rosen was shot and killed by a client in the psychiatric emergency room at St. Francis Medical Center (Hasch & Guggenheim, 1988). Rosen was interviewing the client when suddenly, without provocation, the client pulled out a gun and shot Rosen three times. In another case, a 32-year-old social worker suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body and her husband was killed after a former client set fire to their home (Sobel, 1982). A few months earlier the same client had assaulted the social worker with an ice axe and on another occasion had attempted to rape her. Convicted of multiple charges, the client was given the death penalty ("Death Penalty," 1990).

Few people enter the social work profession realizing that they may become the targets of violence from the individuals they want to help - their clients (Star, 1984). Anecdotal evidence and limited empirical data suggest that physical and emotional violence toward social workers is increasing in all settings (Dillon, 1992): "The professional mystique of selflessly providing service without resentment no longer describes the [current] environmental reality in which workers must function" (Schultz, 1987, p. 240).

Today, social workers handle frontline situations that previous generations of workers did not encounter (for example, increased violence attributed to female, elderly, and deinstitutionalized clients and new intervention roles in domestic violence situations, police-social worker teams, custody and divorce mediation, and emergency room work). Recognition that changes have occurred in U.S. social work practice has not been accompanied by systematic investigation of the implications of these changes. Although the subject of dangerousness has generated a plethora of literature in the past two decades, it has been primarily confined to addressing the appropriateness of the dangerousness standard for involuntary civil commitment and exploring the ability of clinicians to predict violent behavior (Newhill, 1992). Few studies have addressed the danger posed by clients to health care professionals or specifically violence against social workers. The lack of attention to this issue suggests that social workers may be neither adequately informed about the potential hazards they face in their day-to-day work nor systematically trained to manage these risks.

Literature Review

U.S. Studies

The literature addressing client violence toward human services professionals in the United States has generally addressed professional groups other than social work, including psychiatrists (Dubin, 1986; Madden, Lion, & Penna, 1976; Ruben, Wolkon, & Yamamoto, 1980) and hospital nursing staff (Lanza, 1983; Levy & Hartocollis, 1976; Lion, Snyder, & Merrill, 1981).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Client Violence toward Social Workers: A Practice and Policy Concern for the 1990s
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?