New Canadian Consensus Statement on Intimate Partner Violence

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Violence linked to poor health, chronic conditions

From the Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Intimate Partner Violence is a significant, underlying cause of poor health for women and is well-documented as a serious public health issue. In addition to being at increased risk for physical harm, victims of all forms of violence are vulnerable to health complications, which eventually lead to chronic health problems. In June 2005, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) released their Intimate Partner Violence Consensus Statement developed by experts from across Canada.

"Helping to reduce the risk of violence in a domestic situation benefits women, children and society as a whole," says Vyta Senikas, Associate Executive Vice-President of the SOGC. "As physicians we have an opportunity to lessen the chance of miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm birth for the mother and unborn child faced with this violence. Obstetricians, gynaecologists, nurses and midwives, and all healthcare practitioners, must play a role in ending intimate partner violence."

Women experiencing violence have an increased risk of substance abuse, psychiatric disorders and suicide, chronic physical disorders, sexual complaints and recurrent pregnancy termination. Contact with a healthcare provider often provides a unique opportunity for the victim of violence to disclose her situation.

"We recognise that women’s health is directly affected by the phenomenon of intimate partner violence," says Margaret Burnett, Chair of the SOGC’s Social and Sexual Issues Committee. "The purpose of the consensus statement is to provide an understanding of some of the important issues affecting these vulnerable individuals. It outlines practical strategies and tools with which to assist patients whether or not they are ready to make a change in their domestic situations."

One of the goals in establishing the consensus statement and guidelines was the hope that SOGC members and other healthcare providers would facilitate disclosure of violence as an essential component of clinical practice. The Consensus provides a framework for an appropriate response that will allow an assessment of risk, and referrals to community resources for information-sharing, advocacy-counselling and protection.

"I do believe it is of utmost importance to have physicians trained properly on how to deal with abused women and their children," says Renee Parent, Executive Director of Nelson House of Ottawa Carleton. "I have seen thousands of women fleeing abuse since 1992, of which many had seen a doctor regularly, but were never referred to a shelter. This document, once put into place, will hopefully help women and their children find their way out sooner rather then never."

To read the Consensus Statement and IPV Assessment Toolkit, visit: or call: 1-800-561-2416

Important Facts about Intimate Partner Violence and Women’s Health

- Canadian surveys of IPV, the most common form of violence experienced by women, have found between 6% to 8% of woman are affected; this is considered a conservative estimate due to under-reporting. Rates among pregnant and adolescent women appear to be greater.

- Women, regardless of socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, health status and presence or absence of current partner are at risk for IPV.

- Women abused during pregnancy are more likely to be depressed, suicidal, experience pregnancy complications and poor outcomes, including maternal and fetal death.

- Women who are immigrants or refugees, lesbians, women of colour, Aboriginal women, and women with disabilities may experience forms of IPV, may experience IPV differently, and may have more barriers to disclosure, than mainstream women.

- For pregnant women, clinical interventions that included counselling to increase safety behaviours resulted in the adoption of these practices and reductions in abusive incidents.

- Children whose mothers experience IPV are at greater risk of developmental difficulties and may themselves be abused.