What Survivors of IPSV would like other professionals to know?
- Have an understanding of the reasons why it’s very difficult to disclose
- Recognize the fear is real
- Have an understanding of the effects of IPSV, such as confusion, isolations, low self-esteem, lack of trust, self–blame, may still with the partner and love them, denial, etc.
- Have an understanding of the reality of IPSV (the definition is broad, other types of abuse may coexist with IPSV, there might not be physical violence, power and control over the women, the presence of myths).
- Medical examinations can be very triggering for survivors of IPSV
Many women find similarities between medical examinations and past abuse experiences. Some of these similarities may include: being in a horizontal position, being touched, being alone in a room with someone of authority and most of the time with the door closed, having an object (like a needle, tongue depressor or vaginal speculum) inserted into their body. These might be very confronting and triggering for survivors of Sexual Assault.
Responding to disclosures of IPSV
- Be aware that talking about IPSV may be traumatic and trigger emotional distress.
- Women will often use indirect language to describe IPSV and disclose the least serious act first.
- Check to see whether the patient is able to call support services, and offer a telephone for her to make the call safely and in private if needed.
- Be vigilant about maintaining privacy to protect the patient’s safety. Check whether if it is OK to identify yourself in case you need to call her back, or if it is safe to take home written material such as a service brochure.
- Believe the patient when she discloses IPSV – best outcomes are achieved through listening, allowing her to use her own words to describe her experience, provide a sympathetic response and don’t ask investigative type questions (i.e. don’t ask questions starting with ‘why’).
- Behave in a way that is sensitive to trauma effects – victim/survivors can experience complex trauma
- Ensure that the patient maintains control over the next step such as whether to use support services.
- Consider who has access to file notes (e.g. court subpoenas) and plan how disclosures will be documented in light of this
Asking about IPSV in the Absence of Disclosure
- Recognise that IPSV presents even greater risks to pregnant women and their unborn children
- Recognise that IPSV is also experienced by men and women in same sex relationships
- Recognise that IPSV has a greater prevalence in women from ATSI and CALD backgrounds, as well as in women with disabilities
- Recognise that patients who have experienced IPSV are vulnerable to re-victimisation
- Ask about sexual violence specifically, not just physical violence.
- Examples of questions are: ‘Is your partner understanding when you don’t feel like sex?’ or ‘Do you ever feel forced or pressured into having sex?’ or ‘ Have you ever been intimate with your partner because you were afraid of him/her?’ or ‘Has your partner ever forced or pressured you into doing things that you weren’t comfortable with?’
IPSV Risk Factors
- being killed by their partner
- stress-related symptoms
- alcohol or drug use
- unwanted pregnancy
- increased gynaecological problems
- detrimental emotional health effects
- low self esteem
- fear of blame
- increased risk of suicide
- self harm
- depression or PTSD
- shame or humiliation
- lack of trust
- lack of power
- social isolation
- self-confidence issues
Indicators of IPSV and some reasons why women may not disclose:
• fear (e.g. fear of partner, of disclosure, of being believed or judged)
• a cultural context that normalises IPSV
• self-blaming thoughts and feelings
• there might be children involved
• cognitive dissonance- believing two contradictory things at once
• confusion (Is it real)
• lack of trust
• alcohol or drug use
• unwanted pregnancy
• low self-esteem
Legal Options for Suvivors of IPSV
Victim Assist Queensland (1300 546 587)
Formal Reporting to QLD Police CPIU or CIB (Criminal Justice System)
Alternative Reporting Option (ARO)
Civil legal response – Domestic Violence Protection Order
Further Questions About Responding to Sexual Assault?
If you have further questions about responding to sexual assault please phone BRISSC or refer to the Queensland Government Interagency Guidelines for Responding to People who have Experienced Sexual Assault.