Researchers urge sexual health clinics to ask about abuse

Gynecological and sexual health problems are three times higher in women who have suffered domestic violence and abuse.
By Amy Wallace  |  July 20, 2017 at 12:33 PM
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July 20 (UPI) -- A study published on Wednesday by researchers at Queen Mary University of London and the University of Bristol suggests sexual health clinic workers should be trained to ask patients about domestic violence.

Previous research has shown that 47 percent of women visiting sexual health clinics have experienced domestic violence and abuse at some point in their lives and are at a three times greater risk of gynecological and sexual health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, painful sex, vaginal bleeding and recurrent urinary tract infections.

The study, published in the July edition of Sexually Transmitted Infections, involves more than 4,300 women and highlights the feasibility of sexual health clinics adopting the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety, or IRIS.

"Not only is this a feasible intervention for a sexual health clinic setting, but we also found that clinical leads and busy local DVA service providers were incredibly supportive, with many people understanding the importance of making this work," Dr. Alex Sohal at Queen Mary University of London, said in a press release.

Researchers tested the program in two walk-in sexual health clinics for women, one in east London serving an multi-ethnic, inner city population, and a clinic in Bristol serving an urban population.

Over a seven-week period, 267 women out of 2,568 women were asked about domestic violence, with 16 percent reporting being affected by abuse and 50 percent of the women referred to specialist services.

Over 12 weeks in the Bristol clinic, 1,090 women out of 1,775 were asked about domestic violence with 7 percent reporting abuse and 10 percent of those referred to specialist services.

"Women attend sexual health clinics for care of their sexual health but little thought is given to whether the relationship with the person that a woman has sex with directly harms her health," Sohal said. "Without training, system level changes and senior managerial support, clinicians end up ignoring DVA [domestic violence and abuse] in consultations or have an arbitrary approach that fails many women affected by DVA."

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