Storytelling and Violence against Women

Article excerpt

Abstract: Health professionals are frequently the first point of contact for many women who are abused and experience intimate male partner violence. Yet, practitioners often do not have the knowledge and/or feel prepared to address these issues with women. The authors propose the use of storytelling and literature as an educational strategy to challenge and change nurses' conceptualization and practices relative to abuse and violence against women.

Key Words: Domestic Violence, Storytelling, Literature, Women's Health, Critical Thinking.

Every man shall rule in his own home:

The use of Storytelling and Literature to Teach About Abuse and Violence Against Women

Violence against women has recently been identified as a significant public health problem that directly affects the lives of women in the United States. Between 2 and 4.4 million women yearly in the United States are involved in relationships that include intimate partner violence. All racial/ethnic groups are represented and 1.7 million women annually experience severe abuse (National Research Council, 1996; Plichta, 1996). In response to abuse and intimate partner violence, health professionals have begun to address ways to identify, prevent and intervene in this complex problem. However, many nurses have not acquired the knowledge about the dynamics of violence and/or the skills to address issues of violence in women's lives (Carbonell, Chez & Hassler, 1995; Ryan & King, 1998). Furthermore, this content is often missing in nursing curricula. Sullivan (1999) highlights this critical absence when she writes, "In spite of the prevalence of violence in contemporary society and nurses' ongoing contact with the results of violence, scant information about violence can be found in nursing education programs or professional publications" (p. 259). The purpose of this article is to describe the authors' approach to increasing practitioners' understanding of intimate male partner violence through the use of storytelling and literature as instructional strategies.

DEFINITIONS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Walker (1979) initially defined domestic violence as the actual or threatened physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse of an individual by someone with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship. Subsequently, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing defined domestic violence as physical, sexual, or emotional violence intentionally aimed toward women, children, elderly and men in a past or current intimate or familial relationship (AACN, 1999).

Violence against women assumes many forms and occurs in all sociodemographic strata and across all ethnic/ racial, religious, and cultural groups. Various phrases such as wife beating, battering, spouse/partner abuse, marital violence, family violence and domestic violence have been used to describe abuse and violence against women. Dutton (1992) notes that the use of these words may obscure issues of gender, power imbalances, and responsibility and recommends a conceptual distinction between violence and abuse. Violence is discrete and episodic while abuse is a continuous display of controlling and often violent behaviors. Dutton (1992) defines abuse against women as "the acts of physical violence, sexual violence and coercion, psychological torture, and all other forms of power and control exercised against the woman" (p. 4). This definition offers a broader perspective from which to conceptualize, examine and teach content related to abuse and intimate male partner violence and to examine how language and tacitly accepted cultural assumptions influence our awareness and acceptance of violence.

Examining beliefs and values is the first step in program development for both education and social change. Ryan and King (1998) submit that examination of personal values and beliefs are the first of nine hallmark principles essential to well constructed violence educational programs. …