Authorities warned about domestic violence protocol
Human rights advocate Faith Marshall-Harris is urging authorities to proceed with caution on a protocol for mandatory reporting of suspected domestic violence cases by doctors.
She said such a policy, which provides for all patients whose complaints are inconsistent with their clinical presentation to be evaluated for domestic violence, could have negative repercussions.
“Victims would benefit from mandatory reporting as medical documentation of injuries would strengthen a legal case against the perpetrator, aid in the prosecution of the perpetrator, and remove responsibility of contacting law enforcement from the victim. It could also aid in the collection of evidence and incidents and prevalence data,” Marshall-Harris said.
However, she added: “It can also lead to retaliation from the perpetrator, it potentially strains the patient-doctor relationship and could even result in fewer victims of abuse seeking medical care. There are some persons who argue the mandatory reporting infringes on the autonomy of the victim, who is an adult after all, and, in fact, will probably put a strain on the relationship such a victim has with the doctor.”
Referring to statistics compiled between 2000 and 2007, Marshall-Harris noted that approximately 21 per cent of the murders committed in Barbados resulted from domestic violence. All of the victims were women.
The human rights advocate further contended that domestic violence has become a major public health problem.
However, she said, many doctors were reluctant to speak to victims about their concerns or refer them to agencies for assistance.
“Health care providers must recognize the roles they play in the cycle of domestic violence and need to ask questions when patients present repeatedly with injuries consistent with domestic violence, such as bruises and broken limbs even when your patient tells you that they’d fallen down the stairs,” she said.
The magistrate, who is also a UNICEF Champion for Children, also zeroed in on child sexual abuse, saying it was a growing problem.
Despite numerous discussions on the issue of mandatory reporting of suspected cases, she revealed that many doctors remained reluctant to get involved.
At the same time, she described the current approach to dealing with child abuse as “fragmented”, with the different interest group not always working together.
“As a result the abused child may be at a risk of repeated abuse from the same source because of the lack of mandatory reporting, inadequate knowledge and follow up,” Marshall-Harris added.