Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Nurses call on health-care organizations to screen all women for abuse

Nurses call on health-care organizations to screen all women for abuse

TORONTO, Dec. 6, 2007 – As the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women draws public attention, Ontario nurses are calling on health-care organizations to implement universal screening to help identify victims of violence.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) says nurses see the devastating effects of woman abuse first-hand. Whether they work in emergency rooms, in community health and family planning clinics, or visit new mothers in their homes, nurses in every possible setting witness the physical, emotional and spiritual trauma that violence causes. Nurses also interact with women during times of stress and illness, as well as during life transitions such as adolescence, pregnancy and parenthood.

“The various interactions that nurses have with women and the high degree of public trust they enjoy make them ideally-suited to talk to women about the impact of abuse. That’s why we developed a best practice guideline which recommends that at every appropriate opportunity nurses ask all females aged 12 and over if they’ve ever been in an intimate relationship that was emotionally, physically or sexually abusive,” explains Mary Ferguson-Paré, President of RNAO.

Statistics show that women who are abused are likely to visit a health-care facility 11 times before the abuse is recognized. Evidence shows that when nurses directly ask all women about abuse, it gives those in dangerous situations an opportunity to disclose violent incidents, discuss a safety plan, and get vital information about community agencies that provide counseling, shelter and other types of assistance.

A number of health-care organizations have implemented RNAO’s guideline and screen all women for abuse, but RNAO would like every woman in the country to be asked about violence during routine interactions with health professionals. “We are calling for an immediate implementation of universal screening for woman abuse,” says Doris Grinspun executive director of RNAO. “The time for action is now. If every nurse in every health-care organization in Canada was asking women about abuse, imagine how many acts of violence could be prevented and how many lives could be saved,” adds Grinspun.

On a day that we remember the violent and senseless deaths of 14 young women in Montreal, Ferguson-Paré urges health-care organizations to take a lead in preventing violence against women by making a commitment to introduce nurse-led screening programs in their facilities. “Nurses have the skills and expertise needed to talk to women about abuse, but they need the support of their management teams. We’re asking health-care organizations to do three things: develop policies and procedures related to woman abuse and the role nurses play in screening; give nurses the time and education needed to become familiar with specialized interviewing techniques; and establish partnerships with community agencies. RNAO will provide any advice and expertise needed by organizations that are ready to do all they can to protect the women in their communities from violence.”

Nurses at Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) routinely ask all females over the age of 12 if they’ve ever experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They are following a protocol that was recommended in a report issued by the Health Unit’s Task Force on the Health Effects of Woman Abuse in 2000. The MLHU is enhancing its screening program by incorporating recommendations outlined in RNAO’s best practice guideline.

On Friday, December 7, Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and the Minister of Children and Youth Services, will be visiting the Health Unit to learn about the role nurses play in protecting women and girls from violence. During this briefing, front line nurses will describe the numerous health and safety benefits of routinely screening. This event will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. and members of the media are invited to attend.

For more information about the briefing at Middlesex-London Health Unit and other December 6 events that Ontario nurses are participating in, please visit

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses wherever they practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.


For more information, please contact:
Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO
Phone: 416-408-5605
Toll free: 1-800-268-7199 ext.209
Cell: 647-406-5605