Domestic violence in healthcare professionals is a widespread problem that is often ignored. Here’s how to help.
Domestic abuse is widespread worldwide. In the United States alone, an average of 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. But, little is known about the occurrence of domestic violence in healthcare employees where the rate is shockingly high compared to other industries.
Domestic Abuse Morbidity
Domestic abuse is associated with significant morbidity and mortality including poor pregnancy outcomes, sexually transmitted infections, poor physical and mental health, a higher number of hospitalizations, and less preventive healthcare.
Women are More Commonly Victims of Domestic Violence
Several studies conducted worldwide indicate that victims of domestic abuse are more often females and children than males. A report from the Bureau of Justice noted that 85 percent of intimate partner violence is directed toward women, resulting in approximately 1,300 intimate partner femicides.
Domestic Violence in Healthcare Staff
A recent study published in the BMC Women’s Health Journal examined the direct link between domestic violence in healthcare staff, particularly females. Per the study, out of 471 healthcare professionals (including doctors and nurses), 45 percent of healthcare professionals had experienced domestic abuse. However, researchers agree that the current studies on domestic violence in healthcare professionals, mainly nurses and nursing personnel, is insufficient to truly gauge the magnitude of the problem.
Barriers to Victims
There are numerous governmental agencies, advocacy groups, and domestic abuse associations that can offer help and support against domestic violence; however, studies indicate that these organizations are not being utilized appropriately and sufficiently by victims due to several barriers:
- emotional attachments to the partner
- fear for own safety
- hope that behavior will change
- lack of knowledge
- fear of offending friends or coworkers
All of these obstacles make it difficult for the victim to disclose domestic abuse in an effective and timely manner. Therefore, it is critical for healthcare professionals to assess for signs of abuse among co-workers.
How Can Healthcare Professionals Help?
Healthcare professionals should be attentive to signs of domestic abuse among their peers. Many times, abused victims do not present with a physical injury at work (especially in cases of sexual or emotional abuse). Instead, be aware of the following symptoms of abuse:
- panic attacks
- stress-related illness
- joint or muscle pain
- sleeping or eating disorders
- suicide attempts
When a woman talks about “normal issues” at home to her co-workers, responders should assess the situation based on clinical observation, broad-based questions, and active listening. Also, be sure to provide education about unacceptability towards domestic violence.
Legal Mandates to Help Victims
Whether it be a co-worker, patient, friend, family member, or acquaintance, if you suspect domestic violence, you have a legal obligation to help the victim. In all but three states, there are mandatory reporting of domestic abuse requirements.
Don’t wait or second guess your suspicions. Time is critical! It is better to be wrong about the situation than to be right and do nothing, placing the victim (and possibly his/her children) in danger of further abuse. If you suspect domestic abuse:
- Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/
- Report the abuse to your local police department: https://www.thehotline.org/2016/04/21/reporting-to-police-options-tips-for-being-prepared/
- Contact a shelter near you that can help the victim and children escape the abuse.
To download brochures and other materials on domestic violence, click here.
- Bracken, I., Messing, J. T., Campbell, J.C., La Flair, L. N., Kub, J. Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse Among Female Nurses and Nursing Personnel: Prevalence and Risk Factors. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 2010; 31: 137-148.
- Charmaine Domestic Violence: What Can Nurses Do? Australian Nursing Journal. 2004; 12: (5) 21-23.
- Rickert, I., Wiemann, C.M., Harrykissoon, S.D., Berenson, A.B., Kolb, Elizabeth. The relationship among demographics, reproductive characteristics and intimate partner violence. General Obstetrics and Gynecology: Gynecology. 2002; 187 (4): 1002- 1007.
- Tjaden PG, Thoennes N. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice; 2000.
- Wood P. (2018 July 3). Nearly half of female healthcare workers have experienced domestic abuse: study. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-03/nearly-half-of-female-medical-staff-experience-domestic-abuse/9931542.