Domestic violence and social norms in Norway and Brazil: A preliminary, qualitative study of attitudes and practices of health workers and criminal justice professionals
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPLOS ONE, 15(12): e0243352 10.1371/journal.pone.0243352
Background Gender-based domestic violence has gained significant visibility in recent years and is currently considered a priority in the field of public health. This preliminary, qualitative study explores how social norms and professional regulations impact the attitudes and practices of health workers and criminal justice professionals regarding domestic violence against women in Brazil and Norway. Methods A total of 16 semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted; eight in two different cities in Brazil, and eight in two different cities in Norway. In each country, four health workers and four criminal justice professionals were interviewed. We focused on the participants’ experiences with cases of domestic violence, their perceptions of their professional responsibilities, as well as the challenges they encounter. We analysed the transcribed interviews using a focused open coding process. Findings The participants ranged in age from 32 to 59. All of them worked, with and without supervision, in cases involving domestic violence victims. In all four study locations, the professionals felt that they had not received enough training in how to handle domestic violence. Some medical doctors reported becoming personally detached over time, especially when the victims did not admit that their injuries were due to domestic violence. In the Brazilian cities, some professionals reported that women who were beaten by their partners were themselves responsible for the situation. This was not the case in the Norwegian cities. Both countries have laws and regulations that have been put in place to guide professionals who provide services to victims of domestic violence. For many reasons, professionals do not always follow these regulations. For the Norwegian health workers, confidentiality was an important factor explaining why they did not always report suspected domestic violence to the police. For the Brazilian health workers, the fear of having to testify in court, and thus potentially being vulnerable to violence themselves, was a factor that made some not want to involve the justice system. In both countries, the participating professionals reported the need for closer collaboration with social workers and mental health specialists, since domestic violence is closely related to both social norms in the communities and to individual psychological factors. Conclusion Individual characteristics and experiences, the emphasis on confidentiality and the fear of repercussions may affect the way health and criminal justice workers perceive and deal with domestic violence cases. The findings in the study thus indicate that personal psychological factors and social norms concerning the acceptability of domestic violence are critical risk factors for women, and that a multi-professional approach is needed. The findings from this preliminary study can serve as background for larger and more comprehensive studies of how professionals handle cases of domestic violence.