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How do I deal with suspected abuse?

girl with broken arm

Image: © iStockphoto.com/Robert Brown

As nurses, we have a duty to report all cases of suspected abuse.

Your healthcare facility likely has a policy and procedure outlining the exact steps you should take. Consider this a refresher course, especially as sometimes these situations can catch us off guard and there may not be a more senior nurse or manual to consult.

In general, you should:

  • Treat the victim apart from the suspected abuser. If a woman presents a black eye and a suspicious story, try to get her alone. She won’t be able to talk openly if her abuser remains in the room the entire time.
  • Document exactly what you see and hear.
  • Contact the appropriate state or county agency. Although the law varies from state to state, nurses are legally required to report all cases of suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities.
  • If possible, provide the injured party with information and resources. In the case of a battered woman, that may be the name and number of a women’s shelter, or a domestic violence hotline.
  • Keep your emotions in check. It can be very difficult to care for a victim of suspected abuse, particularly if the abuser is in the next room. This is one of those times when you need to push your personal feelings deep down while you attend to the details. Act polished and professional; later, take some time to debrief with a coworker.

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One Response to How do I deal with suspected abuse?

  1. Lila Richards

    This is such a difficult topic to address and be forced into in the hospital setting. Various scenarios exist, some as follows that I have encountered: the battered person will want counsel and help, the battered person will not want help, or the battered person is a child. In all cases, work closely with social work because they are specially trained to deal with abusive relationships and probably know more resources available. In the first case, it is appropriate at this time to report the abuse, call security and have the abuser escorted from the hospital. In the second case, unfortunately, if the battered person refuses to admit that something is going on, all that can be done are follow-ups in the community setting. In the case of suspected child abuse, contact DFACS immediately to get the investigation underway.

    Most severe result will be removal of the child from the abusive parents, not so severe result will be education/parenting classes for the parents and supervised care to ensure the patient’s safety. Either way, the abuse issue is a tough one but one that must be acted on immediately.