Emergency Department Care of Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence: Are We Doing All We Can?

Article excerpt


A significant proportion of Australian women experience intimate partner violence (IPV), many of them unidentified and thus not necessarily supported when they seek assistance in Emergency Departments (ED). This article reviews the literature on IPV with a view to establishing the extent of the problem and the cost of IPV to the women, their families and the community. Electronic databases were searched using the keywords 'intimate partner violence', 'domestic violence', 'nursing' and 'emergency department'. The information obtained may inform health care professionals and assist with management, in the Emergency Department, of those who have experienced IPV. We explore the influence and impact of different types of care on women and the way women understand their experiences of care. From this review the following issues were identified as requiring further investigation:

1. the need to understand IPV from the women's perspective;

2. the factors influencing disclosure to ED staff; and

3. the type and consequent impact of care received in the ED.

Received 13 December 2005 Accepted 8 November 2006


domestic violence; intimate partner violence; nursing; emergency department care


Intimate partner violence (IPV), defined as 'behaviour adopted . . . to control [the] victim which results in physical, sexual and/or psychological damage, forced social isolation, or economic deprivation, or behaviour which leaves [the victim] . . . living in fear' (Easteal 1994: 86-93), has in recent times received much attention in the media. This reflects a change from IPV as nobody's business but the immediate family's to an issue that should be everybody's business. One of the factors instrumental in bringing about this change has been a number of studies, within Australia and internationally, that have highlighted the prevalence, risk factors and social and health consequences, for the family, society and individual, of women experiencing IPV (VicHealth 2004; Rodriguez et al. 2001; Yam 2000). The publication of findings from national studies, such as the VicHealth Study (2004), could be said to have heralded a campaign to bring about change in the way the general public perceives and deals with IPV. One aspect of this campaign was to educate the public through such means as television advertisements, currently being aired throughout Australia. The aim of these advertisements is to create a cultural shift in attitude and response to IPV. However, in order for real change to occur, women also have to feel they have somewhere to turn for help and to believe that, when they disclose issues of IPV, they will get the care, support and assistance they need.

Findings from a number of studies in Australia, Britain and North America suggest inadequate screening for women experiencing intimate partner violence at the primary health care level including EDs, with many not recognized as experiencing violence within their homes (Rodriguez et al. 2001; Webster & Creedy 2002; Gerard 2000; Yam 2000; Pakieser et al. 1998). Thus the question is raised, if women seek help from an ED, when and why are they likely to disclose, or be identified as, experiencing IPV? Following on from this, if disclosure is made, do these women then receive appropriate care and support? Exploring these issues allows nurses the opportunity to examine the care they provide to women experiencing IPV, to determine whether their individual and organizational care is indeed following current best practice.

With this in mind, this paper reviews the literature related to IPV to establish the extent of the problem and the risk factors for IPV as well as exploring the cost of IPV to women, their families and the community. The influence and impact of different types of care on women and the way women understand their experiences of care, is then explored.

Method/search strategy

Medline and CINAHL electronic databases were searched using 'intimate partner violence', 'domestic violence', 'nursing' and 'emergency department' as keywords. …


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