Being the Voice Amid Domestic Violence

The first time I realized I had a duty to report that a patient might be experiencing domestic violence, I was surprised and humbled. Surprised because the woman at risk was a pastor’s wife, and humbled because she apparently trusted me enough that she gave me clues to her circumstances.

Having spent my childhood in a home where domestic violence was present, I should have had better antenna, a keener attentiveness to others caught in a dangerous relationship or life.

Jamie Ferrell, forensic nursing services director at Memorial Hermann Health System (Houston), says that nurses should understand that all individuals can be affected by domestic violence, no matter their socioeconomic status, education, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Being a nurse puts us in an optimal position to watch for and identify individuals who may be victims of domestic violence.

Being the Patient’s Voice

Considering that any client or patient could be a victim, Ferrell recommends a trauma-informed routine screening. Thus, a trusting relationship between nurse and patient and a safe space are crucial. Trauma-informed specialist Lindsay Nelson believes that even a nurse's short interaction with a patient can be supportive, allowing the individual to feel safe and empowered.

Nurses who take on the role of advocate for persons who’ve been traumatized are being the patient’s voice, as nurse researchers discovered in a study on RNs as patient advocates in the clinical setting.

Jesus, Our Exemplar

Our opportunity to advocate for people who are being harmed, those who are disadvantaged, or who cannot speak up for themselves is an opportunity to learn from and exemplify Jesus. He’s the perfect advocate (1 John 2:1-2, NIV): “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Jesus stood on the side of sinners and the wounded. Read how he healed a woman with a chronic condition, then defended his action and her need for care to the local leaders (Luke 13:10-17).

As we advocate for patients and community members, individuals, and groups, we display Jesus’ humility and grief for those in pain. We use our skill, knowledge, and the power given by the Holy Spirit to seek the best for vulnerable people.

Have you benefitted from the advocacy of another when you were in need or seen God use your advocacy for another’s good? Please share your story!

Domestic Violence Victim Engagement Tips

  • Remember that individuals who’ve been abused often feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment.
  • Listening is a powerful tool. A nurse with highly developed listening skills, motivational interviewing, and emotional intelligence can bring the patient comfort.
  • Stay objective and neutral in communication with the patient and documentation of the facts.
  • Reassure the patient that his or her reactions to trauma are normal. Offer access to trustworthy organizations and professionals. (See resources below.)

Karen Schmidt, RN, BA, is a contributing editor with the Journal of Christian Nursing.


JCN articles on domestic violence

Domestic Violence Resources


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