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How do I deal with suspected abuse?

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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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