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Research Analysis: Pervasive domestic violence myths EMS providers believe

After completing a domestic violence training for medical professionals, the beliefs of EMS providers about domestic violence were assessed


By Caitlyn Armistead, EMS1 Contributor

Domestic violence occurs when one partner maintains a system of power, control and intimidation over the other that results in physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse. Domestic violence affects individuals regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality.

In the United States, 22 percent of women and 14 percent of men experience severe violence from an intimate partner, and nearly one in three female trauma victims is a victim of domestic violence.

In the United States, 22 percent of women and 14 percent of men experience severe violence from an intimate partner. (Photo/AmSpa.org)
In the United States, 22 percent of women and 14 percent of men experience severe violence from an intimate partner. (Photo/AmSpa.org)

Domestic violence is truly an epidemic. Unfortunately, most battered women who are treated by EMS providers are not identified as such and are not offered assistance, resources or information.

A study, "What do EMS personnel think about domestic violence? An exploration of attitudes and experiences after participation in training," published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, sought to examine the beliefs of EMS personnel concerning domestic violence. After having attended an online training session utilizing "The National Prevention Toolkit on Domestic Violence for Medical Professionals," study participants were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements.

Beliefs of EMS personnel about domestic violence

The authors wrote, "Even after having completed a training on domestic violence, EMS personnel endorsed or were neutral when asked about common negative stereotypes associated with domestic violence."

Here is a sampling of the responses from EMS personnel, drawn from a voluntary post-test after domestic violence training:

  • “Domestic violence is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration.” – 33 percent of respondents were neutral or agreed
  • “If a victim of DV doesn't disclose abuse, there was little they could do to help.” – 46 percent of respondents were neutral or agreed
  • “If a victim stays in a relationship, they are responsible for the abuse.” – 35 percent of respondents were neutral or agreed
  • “A victim can successfully end a relationship by leaving her abuser.” – 43 percent of respondents were neutral or agreed
  • “Battered women secretly want to be abused.” – 21 percent of respondents were neutral or agreed

Key takeaways on myths about domestic violence

This study raises serious concerns about the beliefs of EMS personnel concerning domestic violence. Those who hold such beliefs may not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. Victims are much more likely to refuse help when personnel hold negative views and attitudes toward victims, so these pervasive ideas affect the delivery of care to patients.

The study attributes the post-training responses to the "pervasive power of these myths;" however, the design of the study prevents that conclusion. No baseline of belief was determined prior to training, so there is no way to determine what change occurred in personnel due to the training in question or other cause.

The retention of myth may have changed considerably with training or it may have remained the same. Such change or lack of change might speak more of the current education model rather than the strength of myth.

It is important to note that 88 percent of respondents had five or fewer hours of training on domestic violence in the last five years; however, due to the design of the study, it is impossible to determine if the two hours of training used for the study was included in that determination or not. If it was, the numbers are even more bleak.

EMS personnel should be concerned by the results of this study. It calls to light the alarming foothold domestic violence myths have in the minds of our colleagues. Now that the extent of the problem is known, we have an obligation to address it.

About the author
Caitlyn is a teacher, AEMT and lifeguard. She has worked for large hospitals, several EMS services, and as a research librarian for a state Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. Visit CaitlynArmistead.com for more.

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