Barriers to women's disclosure of domestic violence in health services in Palestine: qualitative interview-based study

Amira Shaheen, Suzy Ashkar, Abdulsalam S Alkaiyat, Loraine J Bacchus, Manuela Colombini, Gene S Feder, Maggie A Evans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

Background
Domestic violence (DV) damages health and requires a global public health response and engagement of clinical services. Recent surveys show that 27% of married Palestinian women experienced some form of violence from their husbands over a 12 months' period, but only 5% had sought formal help, and rarely from health services. Across the globe, barriers to disclosure of DV have been recorded, including self-blame, fear of the consequences and lack of knowledge of services. This is the first qualitative study to address barriers to disclosure within health services for Palestinian women.

Methods
In-depth interviews were carried out with 20 women who had experienced DV. They were recruited from a non-governmental organisation offering social and legal support. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and translated into English and the data were analysed thematically.

Results
Women encountered barriers at individual, health care service and societal levels. Lack of knowledge of available services, concern about the health care primary focus on physical issues, lack of privacy in health consultations, lack of trust in confidentiality, fear of being labelled ‘mentally ill’ and losing access to their children were all highlighted. Women wished for health professionals to take the initiative in enquiring about DV. Wider issues concerned women’s social and economic dependency on their husbands which led to fears about transgressing social and cultural norms by speaking out. Women feared being blamed and ostracised by family members and others, or experiencing an escalation of violence.

Conclusions
Palestinian women’s agency to be proactive in help-seeking for DV is clearly limited. Our findings can inform training of health professionals in Palestine to address these barriers, to increase awareness of the link between DV and many common presentations such as depression, to ask sensitively about DV in private, reassure women about confidentiality, and increase awareness among women of the role that health services can play in DV.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1795 (2020)
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2020

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