How do I deal with a victim of domestic violence?

Domestic violence is one of those sad realities of our world. As a nurse, you have probably encountered people who may have been abused by their spouse. Nurses are in a unique position to help these people and are often the first healthcare professional the abused patient will open up to.
Empower the possible victim with information. Tell the victim that domestic abuse is unacceptable, illegal and goes far beyond just the physical abuse.

Assist the patient by giving them the number of a hotline to call or a shelter where they can stay. Suggest that the patient have an escape/emergency plan.

Document the patient’s condition carefully and completely. The hospital records can help the patient win a divorce case or custody battle. Nurses also have the power to keep the chart away from the abusive spouse.

The patient may be ashamed to be in an abusive relationship. Reassure the patient that this does not reflect poorly on them and that there is no negative stigma attached to getting help.

Assure the patient that they are not alone.  Provide the patient with information about support groups and show them a path out of their situation.

Oftentimes, abused people have very little self-confidence and harbor guilt in the situation, believing the abuser when they say it’s the victim’s fault. An important nursing role is to be a good listener, give positive reassurance that the patient deserves better treatment. If the patient is willing, have them talk through scenarios. Talking through situations that have turned ugly will allow the patient to see that indeed it was not their fault at all.

Nurses also have the responsibility of reporting suspected abuse to higher management and possibly involving the police, especially in the case of the pediatric population. Warning signs are suspicious bruises, unexplained bone fractures, and stories that do not match between parents. In this case, immediately get the social worker involved. And again, document everything,even little details like interactions between people and your observations. If the case goes to court, having more documentation and information available makes for a stronger case.

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