Recognizing National Nurses Week, May 6-12, and Nursing's Role in Addressing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

(05/04/2017) Amber Batchelor

One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.  Women experienceing IPV generally have worse health than women who don't.  Health issues can include chronic problems with depression, headaches, digestion, and kidney or bladder function.  They also experience poorer pregnancy outcomes and lower birth weight babies.

One of the most important things nurses can do to address IPV is to privately ask all female patients about violence.  This can occur during any patient encounter.  Even if a woman's partner has accompanied her into the exam room nurses can separate the patient from her partern by creating a reason for the partner to leave the exam room and then asking her brief screening questions.

Strategies for nurses include asking broad questions, such as: "How are things at home?" or "How are you and your partner getting along?" Questions linked to clinical observations could include: "You seem very anxious and nervous.  Is everything all right at home?" or: "When I see injuries like this, I wonder if someone has purposely hurt you?"  Targeted questions could include: "Are there ever times when you're scared of your partner?" or "Are you concerned about your safety or the safety of your children?"  Knowing that the Safe Nest hotline is accessible 24/7 gives nurses a tool if the patient acknowledges abuse of any kind.

A nurse's response to a victim disclosing can have a profound impact on a survivor's willingness to seek further help.  "just" listening can result in an empopwering experience for a woman who has been abused.  Validating her decision to disclose can be encouraging: "Thank you for answering honestly.  It must have been difficult for you to talk about this."  Thiis strengthens a victim's hope that others  care.  Emphasizing the unacceptability of violence ("You do not deserve to be treated this way.") dispels the violent partner's threats that no one will believe her. Referring the survivor to a domestic violence3 proram connects her to a wide variety of services that will help her safely plan her next steps.

Imagine what could be acheieved if all nurses were as informed about domestic violence as they are about other prevention issues or general paitient care.  Imagine how meaningful it would be for nurses who are themselves experienceing IPV if this topic could be discussed in informed and supportive ways.

In 2000, the American Nurses Association issued a position statement enhancing an awareness of and commitment to ending domestic violence.  If you would like a presentation about patient screening for intimate partner violence and Safe Nest services, please contact Kat Pulver at kpul@safenest.org or by calling 702-877-0133 ext. 243.  If you are interested in donating or organizing an event to benefit women and children receiving services from Safe Nest, please contact Hannah Brook at hbro@safenest.org or by calling 702-877-0133 ext. 242.