Sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and structural and systemic violence are examples of gender-based violence (GBV) – a serious health issue that can lead to major physical, mental, and sexual health consequences. GBV affects every social class, culture, and age, and affects women significantly more than men. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence, and Indigenous and trans women are disproportionately represented.
The Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC) calls GBV an "epidemic," and states that "many women experiencing sexual and domestic violence, especially those marginalized by discrimination in society, continue to face barriers to reaching out for help and accessing services." EVA BC emphasizes that women who are in abusive relationships often live in silence. Healthcare providers, as one of the first points of contact for women experiencing violence, are in a unique position to help survivors break that silence and have a responsibility to support them.
"Women have rights that are being violated. They are entitled to good health and safety, and that is being violated" says Val Reede, a sexual assault counsellor at BC Women's who has been working in the healthcare system with women and families for over 30 years. She emphasizes that gender-based violence may increase the risk of anxiety, depression, chronic pain, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, suicide, and possible death due to homicide, and needs to be taken seriously.
When asked how she copes with having worked in such an emotionally demanding field for over 30 years, Val responds, "I am privileged to be in a position where I get to see women heal, see them regain their sense of power and control in the world and make amazing changes in their lives." She speaks of the importance of approaching all patients and clients in a sensitive, non-judgemental way, and challenges health sector workers to consider the high rates of GBV and how that might translate to the patients walking into their offices and clinics.
To address the GBV epidemic and the role health sector workers can play in supporting survivors, BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre has partnered with the Ministry of Health and the Ending Violence Association of BC to create Gender-Based Violence: We All Can Help, a free, online, learning series for people working in the health sector.
Gender-Based Violence: We All Can Help teaches health sector workers how to identify, respond to, and address the impacts of GBV. Val strongly agrees that educating healthcare professionals on identifying and responding to GBV is critical. "If healthcare providers aren't sensitive to how GBV impacts health, they may easily misdiagnose patients and unknowingly contribute to women feeling responsible for the abuse they are dealing with. If we do not address GBV, we perpetuate gender inequities and maintain the systemic oppression of women."
Val concludes that healthcare providers can benefit from learning about GBV and using a trauma-informed lens in their practice. When asked if she had a message for survivors of GBV, she answered without hesitation: "It's not your fault, and there are really compassionate people who want to support you in whatever way is most helpful."
For more information on Gender-Based Violence: We All Can Help, and to register for the course: http://learninghub.phsa.ca/Courses/17362/gender-based-violence
For support services, please visit: http://victimlinkbc.ca and http://endingviolence.org/
Gender-Based Violence: We All Can Help is the product of a collaboration between the Ministry of Health, BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, and the Ending Violence Association of BC.