Conspicuous by its absence: domestic violence intervention in South African pre-hospital emergency care

20 Aug 2020

Domestic violence (DV) is common globally. In South Africa, emergency care providers (ECPs) lack a clear policy framework and the necessary training to identify DV and intervene when it is encountered. We investigate the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of ECPs towards DV, and identify factors affecting early identification and its appropriate management in South Africa. A survey of 154/266 registered operational ECPs of different qualification levels and employed by a provincial emergency medical service was conducted. Each participant voluntarily and anonymously self-completed a customised questionnaire. Some 75 (49%) ECPs had an acceptable understanding of DV, although those with higher level qualifications were significantly more knowledgeable (p = 0.017). Most (147,97%) identified that alcohol and drugs were the main cause of DV. A few ECPs (15, 10%) reported having had experience of safety-focused and appropriate gender-sensitive handling of DV victims. The ECPs? qualification levels were not significantly associated with their knowledge of the legislation about DV or with whether they had referred victims of DV. Only 49 (22%) ECPs reported having occasionally referred victims. By their own admission these ECPs expressed inadequate ability to assess and manage DV cases in current ECP practices. There was poor understanding of the extent, nature, detection and referral of DV cases by ECPs relative to their incidence. This may be due to incorrect beliefs or myths about DV, inadequate training and problematic emergency system design. Our findings support the need for a comprehensive emergency care response to guide and standardise DV management with better understanding of gender-based violence in order for the emergency medical service to play a more preventive and holistic role in its responses