Skip to main content

Background: Healthcare regarding violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM), is surrounded by 3 common themes: stigma, silence and shame.

Fear of repercussions, persecution or prosecution, whether it be from the community, a family member persecutor or the justice system, mean that some women find disclosure and asking for help challenging, if not impossible, especially given that perpetrators can be partners, family members and others in positions of trust.

While men and boys are also affected by domestic violence, women and girls are disproportionately affected. The violence is a largely hidden crime, but all women require healthcare services at some points in their lives. While women experiencing violence might well visit their GP and Emergency Department, they also often come into contact with maternity, gynaecology and mental health services.

Maternity services

  • Pregnancy is a time when domestic violence can often start or get worse.
  • Domestic violence can affect girls of all ages. If a girl accesses sexual health services or maternity services at a young age it could be a result of abuse.
  • Often the first time women will disclose to anyone that they are experiencing domestic violence is when they are pregnant.
  • Multiple unplanned pregnancies or abortions are linked to survivors of domestic abuse.
  • Women who have undergone FGM can suffer complications during pregnancy and labour.

Gynaecology services

  • Women who have undergone FGM are often treated by gynaecology services with problems including painful sexual intercourse, inability to have sex at all, vaginal cyst formation, difficulties passing urine, painful periods, infertility, recurrent urinary and pelvic infections.

Mental health services

  • 6- to 8-fold elevation in the odds of sexual assault among both men and women with serious mental illness compared with the general population.
  • Child sex abuse is a common experience amongst people with mental illness.
  • PTSD, anxiety and depression are common mental health issues experienced by girls and women affected by FGM.
  • Sexual stigma has been identified as an issue for those with long-term mental health problems and is linked to sexual risk taking and exploitation.
  • Domestic abuse victims in the UK are three times more likely to develop severe mental illnesses.

Healthcare professionals are therefore ideally placed to identify and direct women to places of safety and support. However, according to SaveLives, 85% of women suffering violence seek help on average five times from professionals in the year before they get effective support to stop the abuse.

This needs to change through better identification and direction to places of safety.