How can I help women experiencing gender-based violence?

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National advice and guidelines stress the importance of creating supportive environments where women can safely disclose their experience of abuse.  Everyone who works with women must:

  • take individual responsibility for acting on disclosures and any suspicions they may have
  • not assume that someone else will act
  • know their responsibilities and their organisation's protocols around disclosures

Access to appropriate interpreting and language support services to assist disclosure is essential. Family or friends should never be used as a substitute. See also Communication Support Needs and Inequalities in Pregnancy.

Service managers and commissioners

Ensure that:

  • all staff are trained in issues around gender-based violence and protocols for dealing with disclosures, information-sharing and ensuring safety and child protection
  • relevant information resources on supportive services are available in places where they can be safely accessed by women without the knowledge of their abusers
  • services are accessible and relevant to women and consistent with public sector policy commitments

Establishing referral pathways to specialist service providers and other sources of support for abused women, including voluntary sector agencies, is vital. Please also see Responding to domestic abuse: a guide for health professionals (external link).

Midwives, GPs, Practice Nurses

These disciplines are often a first point of contact and are in an excellent position to help.

In line with the recommendations of the Confidential Enquiry report 'Saving Mothers' Lives 2003 – 2005 (external link) midwives are are required to undertake routine enquiry of domestic  abuse  with women. This can be done in the context of the Scottish Women Held Maternity Record which supports direct enquiry by the midwife.

In general:

  • make sure you are fully familiar with current guidelines and local procedures on responding to gender-based violence
  • ensure all women under your care have opportunities to talk to you alone and in private
  • if you do not routinely ask about abuse but suspect it's happening, ask directly
  • make sure women understand the limits of confidentiality and your responsibility to act to keep everyone safe
  • ensure information about national and local helplines and support services for domestic abuse are routinely provided to all women

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Voluntary sector workers and managers

Although aimed at healthcare professionals, much useful guidance can be found within NHS guidelines on responding to gender-based violence. In general, ensure that:

  • all staff are familiar with your organisation's policies and protocols for dealing with disclosures, information sharing and ensuring safety and child protection
  • information about supportive services and details of national and local helplines are available in places where women can access them safely and discretely
  • women have opportunities to talk to workers alone and in private
  • if abuse is suspected, the woman is asked directly about in a private, safe environment
  • workers are clear about the limits of confidentiality and their responsibility to act to keep everyone safe
  • early contact with a GP or midwife is encouraged

Advice and guidelines on responding to gender-based violence

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You may also be interested in

  • External Resource

    A Brief Guide to Initimate Partner Violence (July 2015)

    This briefing is one of an occasional series which explore topics of current interest and provides an introduction to concepts and current thinking. It specifically looks at the scale of the problem of intimate partner violence and abuse against women, at how we can explain and understand the underlying causes, and at the impact that it has. It also draws upon scientific evidence for ways to effectively prevent, identify and reduce intimate partner violence and abuse. The interventions discussed may, where highlighted, also be applicable for violence perpetrated on men and those in same-sex relationships. This briefing also covers interventions to support children exposed to intimate partner violence and abuse.

  • External Resource

    Care during the perinatal period for women who are victims of sexual abuse - Guidance for professionals

    Short guidance and accompanying resources for maternity team practitioners from Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

    • When was this published? 1/9/2012
  • External Resource

    Men’s Advice Line and Enquiries (MALE)

    MALE is a confidential advice line for men who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of their current or ex-partner.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010
  • External Resource

    Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships

    A report by the NSPCC and Bristol University into gender based violence in teenage relationships.

    • When was this published? 1/9/2012
  • External Resource

    Survivor Scotland

    Information and a directory of supports in Scotland for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

    • When was this published? 1/9/2012
  • External Resource

    Women’s Aid

    A national charity working to end domestic violence against women and children. This website provides information and resources for health practictioners and members of the public.

    • When was this published? 8/18/2010