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Family violence common amongst health workers

“It happens to clinicians too:” an Australian prevalence study of intimate partner and family violence against health professionals was published in the journal BMC Women’s Health. The first study investigating domestic and family violence amongst female healthcare workers in Australia has found that almost half of them (45 per cent) has experienced family violence, including one in nine who had experienced abuse and violence by a partner during the previous 12 months. The study, involving 471 Victorian female healthcare workers, found that one in eight women had been sexually assaulted by a partner since the age of 16.

Lead researcher Elizabeth McLindon from the University of Melbourne and The Royal Women’s Hospital said the study had important implications, particularly as healthcare workers often provided front line support for patients experiencing domestic and family violence.

“Healthcare workers are increasingly required to identify and support women and children who have experienced family violence,” Ms McLindon said. “For some workers, it may result in them going the extra mile in supporting survivor patients, but for some women, it could also trigger personal trauma to hear stories of other people’s experiences of violence. Hospitals have an important role to play in supporting their healthcare workers to ensure their wellbeing is not negatively impacted by their day to day work. This may also improve the support provided to survivor patients.

“Hospitals should implement greater workplace supports that include workplace manager training to respond to disclosures from staff, special leave provision, staff counselling services, family violence training and online resources,” Ms McLindon said.

Study co-author, Kelsey Hegarty, Director of the Centre of Family Violence Prevention at The Royal Women’s Hospital said the study reinforced the reality that domestic and family violence affected all women in the community, even those with high education and financially secure employment.

Sarah* is a nurse and has experienced violence across her lifetime, firstly at the hands of a relative as a child and later from former partners. She has gone through extensive therapy to help her process the violence she has experienced, but she is often reminded of the trauma when patients disclose their personal experience of violence to her.

“Having experienced violence and not knowing where to go for help at the time, I always make sure that patients are connected to services where they can receive additional supports.

“The impact of those disclosures on me personally vary from day to day. Having a brilliant manager who was a trained counsellor was a big support and ensured I had an opportunity to debrief. I was lucky and this is not necessarily standard practice across the healthcare sector. It is hugely important that employers provide training for managers, supports and processes to ensure those of us who have been affected by violence can best support our patients while keeping ourselves healthy.”

*Name has been changed

Other projects

SUSTAIN: Exploring through a case study approach the sustainability of screening and response to family violence in antenatal care.

System Audit Tool: Development and testing of a new hospital wide system audit tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the Strengthening Hospital Response to Family Violence state-wide program.

MARAM Expert Advisor: Assist the redevelopment of Victorian multi-agency risk assessment and management framework for family violence.

Workplace Support Evaluation: Qualitative interviews with managers after they have been trained through the Strengthening Hospital Response to Family Violence state-wide program to support staff experiencing family violence.

Beyond Silence: A mixed-methods project which aims to understand women's experiences of intimate partner sexual violence and develop a world-first trauma informed website for support.

Beneath the Surface: Digital storytelling project featuring health professionals’ own experience of family violence and what supports they need. Videos can be found on the Safer Families CRE website.

I-DECIDE: Implementation of an online healthy relationship tool and safety decision aid for women experiencing domestic violence into existing practice in the north west Northern Metro region.

Better Man: Pilot of an online early intervention tool for engaging men who use violence to seek help.

Reproductive Coercion: Qualitative study of how health professionals respond to reproductive coercion and what women would like health professionals to address.

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