Domestic violence is a public health issue
Health professionals are a vital factor in uncovering and dealing with domestic violence due to the key role they play in identifying victims of domestic violence, taking appropriate action and providing assistance and protection. In addition to acute injuries, domestic violence also contributes to many chronic illnesses and health issues. It is a well-known fact that exposure to domestic violence poses a serious threat to the victim’s physical as well as mental health. Even children who only witness episodes of domestic violence experience health issues on a more frequent basis. As such, domestic violence is considered a public health issue.
The health care system is often the first refuge to which victims of domestic violence turn for (medical) assistance That is why it is of great importance that health professionals possess the knowledge and skills needed to appropriately respond to cases of domestic violence. Health care providers are frequently slow and reluctant to respond to instances of domestic violence, in part due to poor awareness, unfamiliarity with procedures and their own ambiguous role.
The importance of intersectoral exchange of information
Health professionals play a crucial role in intersectoral cooperation and teams. They are compelled to get involved with the combating domestic violence due to both ethical and legal considerations, seeing that they are required to take action and report domestic violence by the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia No. 16/08). Social Service Centres as well as police and health professionals are bound by the Act to appropriately respond to victims of domestic violence, prevent domestic violence and cooperate with other sectors. While the police force and Social Service Centres have adequately implemented the provisions of the law, this has not been the case in health care services. Although Rules on the Regulations and Procedures for Responding to Domestic Violence in Health Care Services entered into force in March 2011, it is still rare for health professionals to report incidences of domestic violence in practice and intersectoral cooperation with NGO representatives, Social Service Centres and the police force remains highly inadequate.
The number of victims is growing
The absence of a systematic response to domestic violence in health care services remains a grave problem in Slovenia, in particular in light
of the data in the Resolution on the 2009–2014 National Domestic Violence Prevention Programme, which recorded a rise in the number of incidents of
domestic violence reported to the police. The number of suspected perpetrators of domestic violence increased from 1199 in 2000 to 2289 in 2007, while
the number of victims grew from 1392 to 2714 within the same period. According to police statistics, there were 6530 more criminal offences against spouses,
family and children recorded in 2012 compared to 2011. Social Service Centres data also recorded 162 more cases of domestic violence in 2012 compared to 2011.
Spousal abuse was in the lead by the number of reported incidents, followed by child abuse committed by parents and parental abuse committed by adult children,
with the number of reported cases of domestic violence in the countryside and violence against older women also on the rise. The current economic crisis poses
an additional risk that rate of domestic violence may worsen as the associated rise in unemployment and the general climate of uncertainty deepens frustrations and
despair within families and contributes to the rise in victims seeking assistance due to domestic violence.
A systemic solution for health care services
The situation calls for a systemic solution for health care services, including by following the example of good practices abroad,
where appropriate professional guidelines and targeted training for health professionals have facilitated cooperation between everyone engaged in
efforts to curb domestic violence. The first major step towards a systemic solution to the issue of domestic violence in health care was made by the
Slovenian Ministry of Health, which developed Professional Guidelines for Responding to Domestic Violence in Health Care Services last year. The Guidelines
were approved by Slovenian Medical Council in April of this year and are publicly accessible.
The Professional Guidelines consist of a collection of recommended conduct in responding to child victims of abuse and violence and adult victims of violence.
They seek to equip health professionals coming into contact with victims of domestic violence with basic skills and know-how for identifying and responding
to victims of domestic violence.