16 Ways Healthcare Professionals Can Help Prevent Violence against Women

This year, The Pixel Project is pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from RANZCOG – the leading standards body responsible for the training and education of doctors in obstetrics and gynaecology in Australia and New Zealand. RANZCOG provides consultative leadership and advocacy in #WomensHealth to ensure excellence in #obstetrics and #gynaecology training.

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In Australia and around the world, violence against women is widespread, but it is also preventable. Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor.

As trusted leaders in the community who are on the frontlines of patient care, healthcare professionals are in a unique position to both respond to, and help prevent violence before it occurs.

Knowing where to start or what to do can be overwhelming. However, there are many opportunities to initiate change at any stage of your career, regardless of whether you are in training or are currently practicing.

Through awareness raising and education, by addressing attitudes that enable violence, and by working with support organisations, health professionals can make a major difference to the lives of women and girls experiencing violence.

Here are our 16 ways that health professionals can help prevent violence against women.

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Idea for Healthcare Professionals #1: Integrate Awareness-Raising Through Learning

One of the best ways learning institutions can equip health professionals with the knowledge they need to help prevent violence against women, is to ensure that they are aware of the issues and drivers that enable violence. Raising awareness through the inclusion of modules or exam questions in the curriculum not only develops competency, but highlights violence against women as a very real problem.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #2: Provide Opportunities to Level Up Skills

Ensuring that health professionals have access to skill building opportunities and resources is crucial to promoting best practices. Beyond knowing how to identify, respond and refer patients appropriately, it is also equally important that health professionals are skilled in handling these interactions sensitively and respectfully.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #3: Support Research

By supporting, providing expertise to, and investing in research initiatives, health professionals across disciplines can contribute to understanding why these issues persist, and contribute to finding ways to prevent violence before it happens. For example, Melbourne University has some great partnerships and resources as part of the Melbourne Research Alliance to End Violence against women and their children. Click here for more information.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #4: Acknowledge That Stereotyping of Violence Exists

A common trap that we fall into is the idea that violence is only perpetrated by, and to, a certain kind of person. While statistics tell us that there is a gendered nature to violence, it is important for health professionals to remember that violence occurs across all cultures, communities and religions regardless of wealth and education. There is no stereotypical victim of violence, but acknowledging that these attitudes exist is important.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #5: Be A Leader, Speak Up

Recent research by the Medical Board of Australia found that doctors are among the most trusted professions. As leaders in the communities, health professionals are well placed to promote respect as part of a holistic approach to good health and well-being. By calling out behaviours that contribute to negative attitudes towards women, health professionals are able to set standards in their clinical practice, and amongst their colleagues, that violence is not acceptable.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #6: Call Out Sexism

There is an opportunity for health professionals to prevent violence against women at an individual level by understanding the attitudes that drive violence. Sexist language, comments and behaviours are enablers that allow negative attitudes towards women to persist. By calling out these actions and making it very clear that this is not tolerated or accepted in the workplace, clinic or medical institution, it’s a step that all health professionals can make to help address damaging attitudes.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #7: Set the Example

Behave in a way that signals to everyone that you take these issues very seriously. Everyone enjoys and is productive in a fun work environment, but sexist jokes, comments, and conversations set a poor example. Calling out sexist comments, allowing women to speak without interruption, and being respectful of physical boundaries are simple ways that you can show those around you how it’s possible to be a person people enjoy being around without demonstrating or encouraging poor behaviour.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #8: Make Resources and Messaging Visible To Patients

Placing support resources around the workplace may seem like an insignificant measure, but it capitalises on an opportunity to reinforce a safe space without any formal exchange of words. Regardless of how friendly a workplace may be, there are many women who do not report violence for a number of reasons. Where possible, having these resources in both highly visible, and more discreet areas of the office, may allow a woman the opportunity she needs to access this information.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #9: Create a ‘Cone of Trust’

Often times it is in a clinical or medical setting where evidence of violence is either identified and/or disclosed. For such reasons, the relationship between a health professional and patient is of significant importance. Ensuring patients feel safe, heard, and have confidence in the practitioner’s ability to provide the right support, enables a culture of trust where help can be sought.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #10: Ask the Right Questions

Utilising a domestic violence screening tool can assist health professionals in identifying and responding to patients who are at risk of, or experiencing violence. Checking in with patients by asking general questions about their well-being is a good way to keep the communication pathways open. When violence is suspected, remaining sensitive to the reasons why a woman may have chosen not to disclose this information, and by asking the right questions can prompt opportunities for discussion.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #11: Be Mindful Of Creating Unintentionally Unsafe Spaces

In circumstances where a woman has separated herself from a violent situation, it is useful for health professionals to be mindful that creating an unintended unsafe space is a possibility. Personal documentation and health records pertaining to a child or dependent from a previous violent relationship may allow a perpetrator unknown to health professionals, access to personal information, potentially compromising the safety of the woman. Ensuring that all staff that care for the patient are aware of such circumstances will ensure that confidentiality is upheld.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #12: Know How, And Where, To Refer

Building relationships with legal centres, domestic violence crisis centres and community organisations that support women experiencing violence will ensure that the referral process is smooth and efficient. Maintaining these connections not only supports a collaborative approach, it also ensures the patient receives the right mental, social and medical supports necessary.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #13: Understand Legal and Administrative Pathways

Having some basic knowledge of legal rights is extremely useful. Where it is not possible for a staff member on-site to have this knowledge, at the very least having access to legal support services or legal professionals will assist health professionals in providing an appropriate response. There are some great resources and initiatives out there, In Australia, 1800RESPECT has resources for support workers and professionals responding to women experiencing violence. Health Justice Partnerships in Victoria are also implementing a new legal welfare model into hospitals to make legal advice more accessible to women.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #14: Take Good Notes

In the instance where a disclosure has been made, and a woman chooses to take legal action, patient notes can sometimes be called on as evidence to support her case. Doctors can assist in these circumstances by keeping detailed patient notes.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #15: Recognise Your Unique Position

Healthcare professionals who care for women during pregnancy occupy a unique position in society. Demonstrate that you understand this by being a champion for women of all ages. Establish an environment of respect, challenge behaviours that cultivate negative attitudes towards women and don’t hesitate to let people know that violence or disrespect is not tolerated.

Idea for Healthcare Professionals #16: Use Your Influence

Never miss an opportunity to advocate for women’s safety. Your role in women’s health sets you apart and delivers unique opportunities for you to influence policy. Look for opportunities to have these discussions with your colleagues and professional networks. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions as to how your workplace could be more equitable. Get involved in initiatives that support prevention initiatives and tell your friends about it. Make the point. Deliver the message. Argue for change.

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