Sexual health professionals should be supported to ask about domestic abuse

Sexual health professionals feel that it is appropriate and valuable to ask their patients about domestic violence and abuse, National Institute for Health Research-funded research at the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London has found. But time, workload and finding the right moment during consultations can be barriers to doing so.

The risk of gynaecological and sexual health problems is three times higher in women who have suffered domestic abuse. 47 per cent of women attending sexual health services will have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives.

Researchers from the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West interviewed front line sexual health staff and domestic violence and abuse advocate workers about their experience of using an evidence-based training package, IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety) ADViSE (Assessing for Domestic Violence in Sexual Health Environments). All of those interviewed felt that asking about domestic abuse and referring women on to specialist services was appropriate and valuable in a sexual health setting.

The staff described feeling confident and prepared after the training. They were able to tailor how they asked about domestic abuse to suit the patient. Some staff did describe initial challenges ensuring a ‘comfortable’ consultation when first asking about domestic abuse. Managing the time pressure as a result of a patient disclosing that they’d been abused could also be difficult. 

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