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Doctors asked to look out for victims of violence

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GPs and other doctors have been urged to look out for tell-tale signs of domestic violence amid mounting national alarm over the extent to which women and children are being assaulted in the family home.

A series of recent brutal assaults, including the bashing murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty at the hands of his father in February and the stabbing death of Fiona Warzywoda by her estranged partner Craig McDermott in April, have helped focus national attention on violence against women.

Alarming statistics show that, on average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner, and a third of all women have been physically or sexually attacked by someone known to them.

To help GPs navigate what can be a difficult issue to broach with their patients, doctors have been urged to refer to the guide When she talks to you about the violence, developed by Women’s Legal Services NSW with the backing of AMA NSW last year.

The toolkit includes advice on how to ask a patient about abuse, how to respond, support of victims, mandatory reporting requirements and continuing care, and is available as a download at http://itstimetotalk.net.au/gp-toolkit/.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler marked national  White Ribbon Day (25 November) by reiterating the medical profession’s strong support for measures to stop violence against women.

A/Professor Owler said too many women and children experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lives, and they deserved to able to live free from assault.

While rates of domestic violence are particularly high in some communities, such as among Indigenous women, evidence shows that it is prevalent across the community.

“This is unacceptable for a sophisticated nation like Australia,” the AMA President said.

A/Professor Owler said that, aside from the direct physical injuries inflicted, domestic violence had effects which reverberated through the lives of those attacked and those around them.

“The most prevalent effect is on mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and substance misuse,” the AMA President said, adding that domestic violence was also associated with poor physical health, including somatic disorders, chronic pain, gynaecological problems, gastrointestinal disorders and sexually-transmitted infections.

In 2010, the nation’s governments jointly committed to a 12-year national plan to reduce violence against women and children.

Among other things, the plan called for better access to services for women and children experiencing domestic violence and a strengthened justice system to ensure perpetrators are prevented from instigating assaults and are held to account when they do.

A/Professor Owler urged that concrete action be taken to realise the goals of the national plan.

Adrian Rollins