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New online curriculum empowers healthcare providers to support past victims of sexual assault

June  1, 2015

Following the success of the competency-based e-learning initiative – Responding to Domestic Violence in Clinical Settings – Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has created a new online curriculum called Addressing Past Sexual Assault in Clinical Settings. This new educational program will help all healthcare providers care for patients who have been previously sexually assaulted.

“Our curriculum has been designed for a variety of health professionals – everyone from physiotherapists to nurses to medical technologists,” says Robin Mason, PhD, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute who developed the curriculum with fellow scientist Janice Du Mont, EdD, and Sheila Macdonald, MN, provincial coordinator for the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres (SA/DVTCs). “We hope that this evidence-based, interactive and engaging tool will help providers recognize indicators of past sexual assault and know how to respond appropriately, even when a victim hasn’t yet disclosed their sexual assault.”

Many survivors of sexual violence do not seek help or disclose their assault, often fearing insensitive or otherwise unhelpful attitudes and reactions from healthcare providers. Given that sexual assault survivors tend to report poorer health statuses and use medical services more often than women who have not been victimized, it is important for medical practitioners to be able to recognize the potential signs of past sexual assault and respond in ways that make patients feel safe.

To determine what should be included in the new curriculum, Mason and her team reviewed the literature from four prominent health databases and determined the type of responses from healthcare providers that have been helpful or unhelpful for survivors. In collaboration with a multi-disciplinary advisory committee and content experts, the team then used those findings to develop a curriculum of best practices.

The curriculum incorporates multiple elements – such as videos and problem-based presentations – designed to teach providers about the long-term physical, psychological and social impacts of sexual assault. The program also addresses how to supportively respond to patients who disclose, or choose not to disclose, past sexual assault and how to create a safe, empathetic environment for such disclosures.

“Fostering a supportive environment will ensure that victims receive appropriate, compassionate care, and that the potential for negative responses is minimized,” says Mason.

This project was funded by the Ontario Women’s Directorate. To log in to the curriculum Addressing Past Sexual Assault in Clinical Settings, visit www.DVeducation.ca/sexualassault.

To learn about Responding to DV in Clinical Settings, visit www.DVeducation.ca/dvcs/welcome.php.

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