The Blacktown local government area has recorded a disturbing 2,062 incidents of domestic violence from June 2016 to June 2017, and the hospital’s forensic medical unit has seen the highest-ever number of patients referred to the service.
The unit has seen injuries such as bruises, abrasions, lacerations, incisions from knife wounds and sometimes broken bones and head injuries in patients, mostly women.
Dr Glenys Griffiths from the hospital’s forensic medical unit said Blacktown in particular has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Sydney, and is encouraging hospital staff to be on the look-out for patients who may be affected.
“This is a really significant issue for our local community. So far this year we’ve had 80 patients visit us for domestic violence assessments – the highest number since our service was established in late 2008,” she said.
“About one in four women across their lifetime will have some experience of domestic violence. This is a disturbing statistic.”
Dr Griffiths said some patients have presented to the hospital with evidence of strangulation, which can have very serious health outcomes.
“We know from research that if strangulation is occurring in a relationship where there is domestic violence the likelihood of ongoing violence is very high without significant intervention. There is also an increased risk for attempted murder and murder.”
Patients who visit Blacktown Hospital’s forensic medical unit will receive support and medical assessments.
The service helps patients by documenting their injuries, using forensic photography, offering support and preparing reports for court that provide information for the police and the legal system.
“Good injury documentation can help contribute to the brief of evidence that is submitted to court which can translate to better results for people,” said Dr Griffiths.
“We also have a social worker who works with our team who can provide support and connect people up with services to assist with ongoing support.”
Domestic violence crisis support worker, Christie Andrighetto, reminded the community that domestic violence isn’t limited to heterosexual couples.
“Domestic violence can also occurs in same sex relationships, between family members, carers and children. Men are sometimes the victims of domestic violence too. We encourage all those affected to come forward to seek help and support.”
Some tips for hospital staff who suspect domestic violence may be occurring:
- Create an environment of safety. Speak to patients alone, even briefly. You can say something like: “Sometimes people who present with injuries like these are affected by domestic violence. Is this something that has happened to you? Do you feel safe to go home?”.
- Have the awareness that people are more likely to disclose information about domestic violence to a health professional rather than the police.
- Staff can help a patient affected by domestic violence by believing them and validating their experience. It’s common for people who have experienced domestic violence to feel conflicted about what to do next.
- Explain that the person has options – for example: report to police, speak to a social worker. They may choose to have a forensic medical, or be supported by contacting a family member.
- If a disclosure is made to hospital staff, the documentation is then important – be specific about what is being alleged. Where possible record key information verbatim. Think: what is said to have happened, where and by whom.
For more tips and advice contact Blacktown Hospital’s forensic medical unit, or phone 9881 7752. Staff training sessions can be organised.
Community members affected by domestic violence are encouraged to contact
Family Law Early Intervention Unit at Blacktown Hospital
A solicitor can provide advice to any Blacktown Hospital patient on family law matters, child support and child protection matters. Call 1800 551 589 to organise a free appointment.
1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
24/7 service. Can help with crisis accommodation, counselling and case management for people who have experienced domestic and family violence.
DV Violence Line 1800 656 463
24/7 service. Can assist with crisis accommodation for people who experienced intimate partner violence, crisis counselling and make referrals to relevant services.
Law Access Line – 1300 888 259
Legal advice related to domestic violence.
Women’s Legal Services Domestic Violence Advice Line – 8745 6999
Provides legal advice related to domestic and family violence and/or sexual assault and provide referrals if needed.
Note: Research data regarding incidents of domestic violence in Blacktown obtained from the Bureau of Crime Statistics