Emergency healthcare experiences of women living with intimate partner violence


  • Sonia Reisenhofer RN, BN, PGDip, MCN, PhD Candidate,

    Corresponding author
    • Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, VIC and Lecturer, International and Professional Development, School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University, VIC
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  • Carmel Seibold RN, RM, DipNEd, BA, MAppSc, PhD

    Professor Carmel Seibold, Dean of Graduate Studies
    1. Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Australian Catholic University, North Sydney, NSW, Australia
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Correspondence: Sonia Reisenhofer, Lecturer, International and Professional Development, School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, 3086 Victoria, Australia. Telephone: +61 (0) 3 9479 5926.

E-mail: s.reisenhofer@latrobe.edu.au


Aim and objectives

To explore healthcare experiences of Australian women living with intimate partner violence (IPV) and consider how these influence their understanding of IPV and sense of self.


Despite international campaigns condemning violence against women, IPV remains a worldwide problem and recent Australian community attitudes demonstrate ongoing beliefs condemning women in abusive relationships. Women experiencing IPV are over-represented in healthcare-seeking populations; however, they are rarely identified as experiencing abuse and are often not provided care directed towards achieving ongoing safety. While women seek empathetic healthcare, disclosure of abuse often results in being judged negatively or blamed.


A grounded theory study drawing on Clarke's (Sage Publications, London, 2005) analytic approach of situational analysis.


Semi-structured interviews conducted with seven women. Data was analysed using nvivo 8 software within a Situational Analysis framework.


Four major categories were identified: Accessing healthcare: challenges and barriers; Care women need vs. care women receive; Discourses of IPV and constructions of self; and Acknowledging IPV: moving on and re-constructing self. Women faced significant challenges in accessing emergency healthcare and healthcare then often lacked empathy. Women created an understanding of self from a world dominated by an abusive partner and needed assistance re-labelling their experiences as IPV. Healthcare professionals who provided empathetic care were instrumental in assisting this process, enhancing women's abilities to explore options for limiting abuse and assisting them to enhance their self-efficacy and reconstruct a positive sense of self.


Healthcare is one of the few avenues women living with IPV have to receive emotional and physical support. Healthcare that ignores psychosocial issues further damages women's sense of self.

Relevance to clinical practice

Women require timely information and empathetic support from healthcare professionals to assist them in understanding and labelling their experiences as IPV. This enhances women's ability to feel deserving of, and ideally achieve, a life without violence.