Those who aren’t nurses might have seen it in an episode of ER or Law & Order. A man, woman, or child comes into a hospital with bruises, cuts, or even broken bones. They’ll tell a nurse that they took a nasty tumble down the stairs or got their jeans caught in a bike chain. However, later in the episode, healthcare professionals will dig a little deeper, going through medical history and eventually getting the truth out of the patient. Instead of a bruised face from a fall, it was in fact yet another blow from a spouse or loved one. These domestic violence scenarios play out not just on the big screen, but in hospitals, every day all over the country, which is why spotting domestic abuse as a nurse is so crucial. A nurse’s role is to care for patient’s injuries while also looking out for their future well-being. While spotting domestic abuse as a nurse can be tricky, there are a few things to look out for.
Spotting Domestic Abuse As A Nurse
The Unspoken Suffering
Studies show that about 75% percent of all domestic violence incidents go unreported, which is why the burden can often fall on the nurses. They must decide whether or not there is enough evidence to do something about it. However, reporting domestic violence isn’t always easy.
The range of barriers that comes along with disclosing domestic violence include:
- Fear for own safety, or safety of children or other family members;
- Denial or disbelief;
- Emotional attachment to, or love for partner;
- Commitment to relationship;
- Hope the behavior would change;
- Shame and embarrassment;
- Staying for the sake of the children;
- Depression and stress;
- Lack of faith in other people’s ability to help; and
- Belief in the value of self-reliance and independence
This is why as a nurse, it’s important to talk to possible victims of abuse and to try and gain some sense of trust from then. Many victims can feel isolated, so showing them that they are in a safe space with people who are willing to help them can help them tackle the issue head-on. Many victims are fearful of police or other domestic violence services, so it’s up to you to bridge that gap so it can be properly reported.
Assessing Domestic Abuse
While it often can be difficult spotting domestic abuse as a nurse, there are a few things that you can look for that might be indicators of domestic violence.
- Bruising in the chest and abdomen;
- Multiple injuries;
- Minor lacerations;
- Ruptured eardrums;
- Delay in seeking medical attention; and
- Patterns of repeated injury.
In other cases, a patient might come in with anxiety issues or feel very stressed and nervous. They might seem uncomfortable around their partner and in many cases of domestic abuse, the partner may opt to talk on behalf of their partner. Trust your intuition. When spotting domestic abuse as a nurse, you may want to sit with the patient alone and ask them if things are going okay at home. Remember to remind them that they are in a safe environment and that if there are any issues, you can provide the resources to help them. If nurses think a woman or man in their care may be experiencing domestic violence, the level of questioning will depend on how comfortable the woman or man feels talking about it and what indicators they have observed.
Acting Now – Stopping Domestic Violence
With a growing awareness when it comes to spotting domestic abuse as a nurse, there are a few things you can do to help your patient get the help they need. Nurses can play an important role in working toward the creation of a violence-free community, but they must first become well-informed. They must then insist the organizations in which they work to accept this responsibility and work together to create environments that support people experiencing domestic violence. Once they walk through those doors, they are essentially in your care, so you get to make the decisions regarding their well-being, so make sure you’re providing the various resource options available for them to find safety.
If you have experience dealing with domestic abuse while on the job and are comfortable sharing, let us know in the comments below!