Nearly half of female medical workers have experienced domestic abuse


By Tessa Hoffman

4 Jul 2018

Almost 50% of female medical professionals in Australia have experienced domestic at the hands of a partner or family member, a landmark study shows.

And one in 10 female health professionals had experienced intimate partner violence in the past year, according to a survey of 471 doctors, nurses and allied health professionals at a tertiary maternity hospital in Victoria.

The prevalence rates are higher than reported in the general Australian community and pose serious real-world implications for health professionals and their patients, according to researchers led by Elizabeth McLindon at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital.

The survey  – whose respondents included 69 doctors – used the Composite Abuse Scale (CAS) to measure 12 month and lifetime prevalence of intimate partner (IPV) and violence perpetrated by a non-intimate family member (FV).

It found 45% of participants reported having experienced violence by a partner or family member in their life time and more than one in 10 (12%) had been raped by their partner. One third (29.7%) reported experiencing IPV since the age of 16 and one quarter (25.6%) had felt afraid of their partner. One in ten (11.5%) reported intimate partner violence in the previous 12 months.

In general, the group reported much higher rates of intimate partner violence than have previously been found in the Australian community. The researchers said earlier research suggested one in four women experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual intimate partner violence in adulthood and 16% of girls under 15 have been subjected to physical or sexual violence, often in a family context.

Writing in BMC Women’s Health they note that the findings are “difficult to place in a broader context because of the difference in the measures used, however they do indicate that the violence burden in health professional women’s lives may be high and overwhelmingly perpetrated by partners and family members”.

Among the professions surveyed, allied health had the strongest association with intimate partner and family violence, and this group was overwhelmingly comprised of social workers.

The study authors said there was a risk of health professionals suffering vicarious or secondary trauma when working with survivors of violence, underscoring the need for healthcare workplace resources and support programs for intimate partner violence.

“Healthcare organisations rarely consider what it means if the health professional is impacted by fear and violence in their home and are asked to intervene with patients affected by these same issues,” they wrote.

“Intimate partner and family violence not only impacts the health professional herself, we argue that it may have important ramifications for health services’ capacity to provide the best care to patients experiencing the traumatic health sequel of violence. Health services should have safe pathways to care for both health professionals and patients who are experiencing intimate partner and family violence.”

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