As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, I wanted to feature a guest post about the topic. It’s important that we, as nurses, are keenly aware of the prevalence of domestic violence, how to identify it, what to do, and how to care for ourselves. If you have a personal nursing experience related to this, please feel free to share it in the comments section. I think it’s important to share information regarding how to handle this when we see it in our patients.. what worked? What didn’t? What will you always remember? What helpful hints can you give newbies? (Please remember to keep all information HIPAA compliant)
Did you know that, on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner? Or how about the fact that nearly 1 in every 10 women in the United States has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime?
Domestic violence is extremely prevalent throughout society, yet many people don’t quite understand just how rooted it is in our culture. Many victims of domestic violence are afraid to talk about their abuse for a variety of reasons including fear, threats, coercion, or lack or resources. Because of this, nurses play an essential role in identifying the signs and symptoms of domestic violence, and giving victims the support and resources they need to leave their abuser.
Recognizing the signs of domestic violence is not an easy task – while there are some more obvious symptoms (bruising that doesn’t match the explanation the patient gave, broken teeth, a history of broken bones), many symptoms are not easily identifiable and can require a nurse’s full sensory awareness. Some of these symptoms include:
- Strange or intimidating behavior between the patient and partner during the visit
- Signs of patient fear from his or her partner
- A history of drug and/or alcohol abuse from the patient and/or partner
- The partner trying to dominate the visit and not allowing the patient to speak for his or herself
If a nurse notices any of these signs or symptoms, it’s important to carefully and sensitively follow-up with the patient regarding the possibility of domestic violence. This should be done in a safe, private area away from the abusive partner. If your concerns are confirmed by the victim, giving the victim options of local government organizations, religious groups, and community nonprofits is one of the best ways to guide them towards leaving their abuser. Counseling services, emergency services, and housing services are all resources that can easily be found online. If a victim is hesitant to leave their abuser, simply providing a web address to one of these services could be enough to resonate with the victim and eventually help him or her make the decision to flee his or her abusive relationship.
Treating a patient who has been a victim of domestic abuse can be very psychologically challenging. It is not uncommon for nurses to feel extremely affected by seeing the damage an intimate partner can do to someone he or she is supposed to love. After the patient has been discharged, nurses should try to be very in-tune with their emotions; if one starts to feel down or depressed after treating a victim of domestic abuse, one of the best things to do is talk about it with a peer or write it down. Research has shown that this is one of the most psychologically beneficial things individuals who have been through a harrowing situation can do.
Preparation is key when treating a patient who is the victim of domestic violence. By understanding the proper way to handle the situation – both for the victim and personally – nurses can help ensure that everyone involved takes the necessary steps towards leading a safe and healthy life. Nurses see many traumatizing things in a day, but sometimes the most traumatizing situations are where the victim is silently suffering. By raising awareness for domestic violence, we are giving a voice to the millions of victims who aren’t yet ready to speak about their abuse.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it may be difficult to know what to do. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has highly trained advocates available 24/7 to give you anonymous and confidential help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit www.thehotline.org.
Carly Dell is the community manager for the innovative online rn to bsn program offered through Simmons College. In her free time, Carly enjoys traveling, binge-watching HGTV, and trying new restaurants. Follow her on Twitter @carlydell2 and Google+.