We’ve all seen it in an episode of ER or Law & Order. A man, woman, or child goes into a hospital with bruises, cuts, or even broken bones. They tell the 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 don’t just play out on the big screen. They play out in hospitals every day all over the country. This is why spotting domestic abuse as a nurse is so crucial. A nurse’s role is to care for their 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.
Tips for Spotting Domestic Abuse As A Nurse
The Unspoken Suffering
Studies show that about 75 percent of all domestic violence incidents go unreported. That’s why the burden of identifying abuse often falls 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.
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Why victims don’t want to talk
It’s important to understand that there are many barriers when it comes victims disclosing domestic violence, including:
- Fear for their own safety, or the safety of children or other family members
- Denial or disbelief that abuse is happening
- Emotional attachment to or love for the abuser
- Hope the behavior will change
- Shame and embarrassment about the situation
- Staying for the sake of the children
- Depression and stress
- Lack of faith in other people’s ability to help
- Belief in the value of self-reliance and independence
This is why as a nurse, you have to tread gently when talking to patients who you suspect are victims of abuse. Try to gain a 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 for injuries
- 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 or their partner may even be speaking for them to remain dominant. 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 the nurse has 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 on the organizations in which they work to accept this responsibility and work together to create environments that support people experiencing domestic violence. Once victims walk through your doors, they are essentially in your care. You get to help them make decisions regarding their well-being, so make sure you’re providing them with the various resources available in your community.
If you have experience dealing with domestic abuse while on the job and are comfortable sharing, let us know in the comments below!