Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario


Nurses Launch Province-Wide Tool to Screen for Woman Abuse


New resource by Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario helps identify and support abused women

TORONTO, Nov. 28, 2005 – As December 6 and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women nears, nurses across Ontario are contemplating how – in their professional and personal lives – they can help stem the tide of violence against women. Nurses know that violence prevention is key to their work, and they can now turn to a new tool to help them screen women who may be suffering from abuse. The tool, Woman Abuse: Screening, Identification and Initial Response Best Practice Guideline (BPG), was recently released by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO).

This new clinical and education resource for nurses, which is available online and in print, provides strategies for nurses and other health-care providers to facilitate the routine and universal screening for woman abuse in a variety of settings. The comprehensive guideline also includes a useful three-page screening questionnaire to help nurses assess if female patients are suffering from abuse and, if so, how severely by asking them about violence they experience. For instance, one question asks: within the last year, have you been hit, slapped, kicked, or otherwise physically hurt by someone? Another poses: within the last year, has anyone forced you to have sexual activities?

The Status of Women Canada estimates that half of Canadian women – 51 per cent – have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 (2000, latest figures).

“This new proactive tool helps nurses become more aware and practically prepared, with the right skills and knowledge, to assist women facing an abusive situation. And, given the many and varied interactions nurses have with female patients across Ontario, we are confident that this additional opportunity for disclosure will greatly promote health, well-being, and safety for women,” says RNAO’s Best Practice Guideline Program director, Tazim Virani.

RNAO’s guideline uses the following definition of woman abuse: “The intentional and systematic use of tactics to establish and maintain power and control over the thoughts, beliefs, and conduct of a woman through the inducement of fear or dependency.” Common tactics cited include emotional, financial, physical, and sexual abuse. Major health effects suffered by abused women include: low self-esteem; self-abusive behaviour; difficulty in forming and maintaining healthy relationships; difficulties in parenting; and acute anxiety.

Twelve final recommendations from the multi-disciplinary development panel of health-care professionals cover specific skills, knowledge and plans to increase overall awareness. Key proposals include:

  • Routine screening should be conducted with all women, ages 12 and older. Young women are included for screening due to the increasing incidence of date violence.
  • All nursing curricula incorporate content on woman abuse.
  • Nurses work towards developing skills to foster an environment that facilitates women to open up and report abuse by: acknowledging the abuse; validating the woman’s experience; assessing her immediate safety; exploring options; referring to violence against women services at the woman s request; and documenting the interaction.
  • Nurses take the lead in an assessment of organizational readiness and barriers to education for the implementation for screening women for abuse.

“The physical and emotional health consequences of violence against women are profound and enduring. We are confident that this far-reaching guideline with its specific strategies will help break the cycle of violence. Nurses are well-positioned to screen for woman abuse because they are accessible, enjoy a high degree of public trust, and work in a variety of settings,” says guideline team leader, Daina Mueller, of the Hamilton public health and community services department.

RNAO’s ambitious Best Practice Guideline Program, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care was launched in 1999 to provide the best standard of patient care across a wide spectrum of health-care areas. More specifically, the program covers five clinical areas including: emergency care, gerontology, home health care, mental health, and primary health care. The organization’s 29 guidelines to date help build excellence in Ontario’s health-care system. They are available to nurses across Canada and abroad.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is the professional association representing registered nurses 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.

To learn more about RNAO’s Nursing Best Guideline Program and to view this new resource, please visit: .


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