Health professionals’ beliefs about domestic abuse and the issue of disclosure: a critical incident technique study

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Abstract

Domestic abuse is increasingly recognised as a serious, worldwide public health concern. There is a significant body of literature regarding domestic abuse, but little is known about health professionals’ beliefs about domestic abuse disclosure. In addition, the intersection between health professionals’ beliefs and abused women's views remains uninvestigated. We report on a two-phase, qualitative study using Critical Incident Technique (CIT) that aimed to explore community health professionals’ beliefs about domestic abuse and the issue of disclosure. We investigated this from the perspectives of both health professionals and abused women. The study took place in Scotland during 2011. The study was informed theoretically by the Common Sense Model of Self-Regulation of Health and Illness (CSM). This model is typically used in disease-orientated research. In our innovative use, however, CSM was used to study the social phenomenon, domestic abuse. The study involved semi-structured, individual CIT interviews with health professionals and focus groups with women who had experienced domestic abuse. Twenty-nine health professionals (Midwives, Health Visitors and General Practitioners) participated in the first phase of the study. In the second phase, three focus groups were conducted with a total of 14 women. Data were analysed using a combination of an inductive classification and framework analysis. Findings highlight the points of convergence and divergence between abused women's and health professionals’ beliefs about abuse. Although there was some agreement, they do not always share the same views. For example, women want to be asked about abuse, but many health professionals do not feel confident or comfortable discussing the issue. Overall, the study shows the dynamic interaction between women's and health professionals’ beliefs about domestic abuse and readiness to discuss and respond to it. Understanding these complex dynamics assists in the employment of appropriate strategies to support women post-disclosure.

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