WORKING WITH BATTERED WOMEN: A Handbook for Health Care Professionals


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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS

Domestic violence is one of the most common causes of injury to women. It accounts for more injuries to women than automobile accidents, stranger assaults and sexual assaults combined. It is experienced by 25% of Canadian women at some time in their lives—women from all cultural groups, all ages and all economic classes. It is especially likely during pregnancy—21% of women who are abused report being physically and/or sexually assaulted during pregnancy—40% of women who are assaulted during their pregnancy report that the assault began during pregnancy. Almost half of all wife assault results in physical injury to the woman—physical injuries such as bruising, cuts, scratches, burns and broken bones. And 4 in 10 women who are injured by a partner seek medical attention. That means they are going to physicians.

Yet studies show that physicians have been unlikely in the past to identify and respond to women as victims of wife assault. Why? Health care professionals give the following reasons for not asking patients about their experiences with domestic violence:

  • they're afraid of offending the patient;
  • they aren't sure how to approach the patient about the subject;
  • they believe they are powerless to make changes since the woman is likely to remain in the abusive relationship despite intervention; and
  • they believe the low prevalence of domestic violence does not warrant the time it would take to raise and deal with the issue.

But health care professionals can play a major role in assisting abused women. Once they are educated about the issue of wife abuse and the possible indicators:

  • they'll be in a better position to understand the motivations and actions of their patients;
  • they'll better be able to identify a woman has been abused by her partner;
  • they'll be better able to approach a woman about the subject of wife abuse; and
  • if a woman discloses abuse, knowing what her immediate needs are and how to refer her to community agencies that offer crisis and long term support will make a significant difference to her.
It's not the job of the health care professional to rescue an abused woman. You cannot make her disclose abuse nor can you make her leave her abusive husband. What you can offer her is the understanding, support and information that will allow her to make her own informed choices when she is ready to do so.

Of course, one of the greatest frustrations experienced by all professionals is the inability to have a direct impact on an abused women's decision to leave an abusive partner. This frustration is normal, and is experienced by all who try to assist: social workers, police officers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and shelter workers. Knowing about the dynamics of domestic violence against women can go a long way in reducing this frustration.


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