How doctors can help fight domestic violence | AMA (WA)

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How doctors can help fight domestic violence

Wednesday March 23, 2022

Simone McGurk, WA Minister for Child Protection, Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services.

International Women’s Day is a good time to reflect on what has been done to advance and empower women, and how far as a society we have to go. As Minister for Women’s Interests, I’m proud of the work this Government is doing to help women and girls reach their full potential.

However, as Western Australia’s first Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence, it’s impossible to acknowledge our progress without asking why women are still disproportionately affected by this abuse.

The undercurrent of violence flows through our cities, towns and communities – there is no denying WA has a problem. One in five women over the age of 15 has reported violence by a partner, and we have the second highest rate of family and domestic violence (FDV) in the country.

It will come as no surprise to anyone working in an emergency department that two-thirds of assaults are domestic violence-related. But what about the abuse you can’t see? Often these crimes are only exposed when somebody is killed.

For far too long, the truth about FDV has remained in the shadows. It thrives on shame, secrecy and fear. As health professionals, you are in a unique position to identify the signs of FDV – and your help is bringing these insidious crimes to light.

Health professionals have told us about the worrying rise of patients suffering the tell-tale signs of strangulation – one of the deadliest forms of domestic violence. Your collective voices helped lead to significant law reform, including a new offence for suffocation and strangulation –and training for health professionals to recognise the signs. This important work is helping to save lives.

The State Government also implemented an antenatal screening program across the public health system to enhance WA Health’s response to FDV. Antenatal screening may be one of the only times victim-survivors are not accompanied by a controlling partner.

The work is ongoing; however, early evaluation in 2020 demonstrated that 81 per cent of antenatal patients consented to FDV screening, and of those identified at risk, 68 per cent accepted referrals to FDV services.

And last year, the North Metropolitan Health Service (NMHS) launched an FDV Framework, dedicated to Jessica Bairnsfather-Scott, an NMHS employee who was tragically murdered by her husband. I congratulate NMHS for this work, supporting both their employees and clients, demonstrating how WA Health is a key partner in responding to FDV.

But there is always more work to do. In recognition of the important role frontline staff play in identifying FDV, we are training 3,000 first responders to help them recognise the signs – and act on them.

The training – expected to be rolled out later this year – is likely to include paramedics, GPs and other allied health workers.
We are also cracking down on perpetrators. As part of the additional $126 million the McGowan Government has committed to tackle the scourge of family and domestic violence, we will trial a specialised FDV forensic service.

This will give authorities the best chance of securing a conviction – with specific diagnosis, evidence collection and reporting on FDV cases.

I will continue working to support survivors, tighten legal protections, and raise awareness of the drivers of violence – but we can all help make a difference by educating ourselves on the signs of FDV, and speaking out when we see it. We must play this role both in our professional and our personal lives.

We owe it to girls and young women to give them a future free from the threat of violence, and ensure they are equal partners in all aspects of life.