One in three women in Australia have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of someone they know—a shocking reality that is, tragically, growing in prevalence.
Helping to empower victims to ultimately free themselves, and their unborn and newborn children, from violent relationships are people like Women’s and Children’s Hospital Network’s (WCHN) Kerrianne Carter.
The Registered Nurse and Clinical Midwife is part of the team helping to prepare the WCHN for the impending rollout of an international evidence-based best practice guideline centred on abused women.
One area of Kerrianne’s focus in this capacity is the development of a screening tool to identify at-risk women across the network.
“Women don’t necessarily know they’re in an abusive relationship, because society regards domestic violence as physical abuse,” Kerrianne says, “But there is a lot more to domestic violence than what you can see.”
“It can be emotional or financial, it can be isolation or control—and these types of domestic violence are often harder to identify,” she says.
She says the tool will be embedded as routine practice to screen all women aged over 16 who present at the hospital for any reason and at any stage of their pregnancy journey.
“The tool will enable us to ask a few key questions to raise awareness of domestic violence behaviours and foster conversations about an area that society really wasn’t openly talking about three years ago.”
“In preparation, I’m talking to staff about the barriers they might have in broaching the topic with a woman and I’m putting together an education strategy around this.”
“Asking the questions is one thing, but staff also need to be educated on the best way to help women who may identify as at-risk.”
She says, educating staff is a big part of ensuring the new practices are embraced network-wide.
“As health professionals, we need to have an understanding as to why a woman would stay and also how best we can empower her with the right support information, so if she chooses to leave she can do so safely for her and her baby.”
Statistically, women can reach out to help services up to 14 times before choosing to leave a violent relationship.
Kerrianne’s long-held passion for helping domestic violence victims was further incited by an experience during a home visit four years ago.
“I was visiting a woman at what I thought was her home, only to discover it was her ex-partner’s residence where an intervention order was in place because it was unsafe for her to be there.”
At the time, Kerrianne says she wasn’t confident in knowing what she should be doing or could be doing to help. But, she made it her mission to find out.
“That experience made me want to have a better understanding of what this woman’s life looked like, what the risks to her and her baby were, and what we as health professionals could do to help.”
“I wanted to better understand the cycle of violence, why this woman wouldn’t leave and how I could better support her to make the right choice to leave the relationship.”
Kerrianne’s quest to help seems limited only by the small amount of contact she has in a woman’s entire life-span.
“You only see them for a short time, so the best we can do is wrap the available services around a woman, so she feels empowered to safely leave to protect herself and her children.”
“If we can inspire one woman to make a change in her life and the life of her child, then we’re doing a great job.”
‘Woman Abuse’ will be the third Best Practice Guideline to be rolled out across the WCHN to complete the site’s transition to become a Registered Nurses Association of Ontario-accredited Best Practice Spotlight Organization.
The Women’s and Children’s Hospital also became an accredited White Ribbon Workplace in 2017, recognised for its efforts in taking active steps to stop violence against women.