To this day, domestic violence is still a common occurrence in many households. Victims of domestic violence often suffer silently and experience mental, physical and sexual abuse.
Given the number of people we meet daily, we are very likely to come across abusers or victims of domestic violence. And since nursing goes beyond treating medical problems, looking out for signs of domestic abuse should become routine care.
Let’s have a more in-depth look into this.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a form of abuse. It occurs within a family, between intimate partners, or partners living together. It is any form of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse that intends to harm the other person. In severe cases, the abuser eventually kills the other person.
Who is affected by domestic violence?
Studies show that the majority of victims in domestic violence are women. With roughly up to one-third of all girls in relationships having experienced physical or sexual abuse by their partner.
However, this does not mean that men or other gender types do not experience domestic violence. On the contrary, 4.5% of men in England and Wales have encountered domestic violence at least once in their life.
“If it happened to me I would leave! I don’t understand why they stay with their abusers! It’s their fault.”
Stop right there and swallow your words back! You can NOT judge anyone for staying in an abusive relationship. There are several reasons why victims do not speak up or leave their situation, many of which revolve around fear and shame.
Many victims explain that they did not leave their abusive home because they:
Feel ashamed to talk about it, and how society will react
Fear their safety and their children’s safety as the abuser threatens them
Believe that they are helping the abuser through his troubles
Think that such abusive behaviour will change
Feel depressed and isolated
Why should I do something about it?
You should do something because if it were you, your daughter or your mother then you would want someone to help! No one deserves to experience any form of abuse.
More importantly, it is clear that victims of abuse rarely seek help. However, in many cases, when support reaches them, these individuals are likely to open up about their experiences. This means that taking the initiative to start a conversation could save their life.
How do I recognise domestic violence?
Domestic violence is seen in many ways; the most common indicators are:
Bruises, cuts or fractures
Other signs are often caused as a secondary problem to domestic violence such as:
Anxiety, depression, low self -esteem
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Drug or alcohol abuse
Lastly, you might also notice that someone gets anxious or agitated around their partner. They might describe their partner as “hot-headed” or having a “bad temper”.
Ok, so what should I if I suspect domestic violence?
Create a Safe Space
If you suspect any form of abuse, find time to have a private conversation with your patient. If the partner seems to be lingering around all the time, you can request to have time alone while you care for the patient’s wound or help the patient to the bathroom etc.
Ask Direct Questions
Victims of domestic abuse are often scared to talk about their experiences, so asking direct questions will enable them to come directly to the point. Something along the lines of
“I have noticed that abuse at home has become widespread, so I am asking all my patients about this. How are things at home?”
You should look out for any hesitation or anger that might come with their answer.
Listen and explain that your patient is not alone.
People who have been victims often need to vent out their pain, anger and emotions. So as their nurse, you should be there and listen to all they have to say.
Don’t be too quick to talk but instead let your patient express herself. Once the patient is done, you should explain that she is not alone in this situation and that she is strong for choosing to talk about it. You should also highlight that violence is never acceptable no matter the situation.
Refer your patient to more help
Having calmed down the patient, the next step is to refer her to support specialists. Many hospitals and clinics have the opportunity to refer patients to social workers, in other cases consider talking to senior nurses to guide you accordingly.
You should give your patient information about were to seek help, and who to call in case of an emergency. Other methods may include sticking posters of support helplines on the bathroom doors and walls.
In Malta, the national helpline for victim support is 179.
Practice this every day
Make sure to raise awareness about domestic violence not only to your patients but also to your colleagues, family and friends.
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Alshammari KF, McGarry J, Higginbottom GMA. Nurse education and understanding related to domestic violence and abuse against women: An integrative review of the literature. Nursing Open. 2018;5(3):237-253. doi:10.1002/nop2.133
Burke Draucker C. Domestic Violence: The Challenge for Nursing. American Nurses Association. 2002;7(1).
Power C. Domestic Violence: What Can Nurses Do? Australian Nursing Journal. 2004;12(5):21-23.
Health Care and Domestic Violence: Facts for Nurses A Call to Action: The Nursing Role in Routine Assessment for Intimate Partner Violence 4. https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/HealthCare/nursing.pdf.
Jones B. How to address domestic violence and abuse. Nursing Times. 2016;(12):1-4. https://www.nursingtimes.net/clinical-archive/womens-health/how-to-address-domestic-violence-and-abuse-03-10-2016/. Accessed February 5, 2020.