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Do Vets Have Role to Play in Early Intervention of Family Violence?

18 March 2016
Australian Veterinary Association

AUSTRALIA - Animals are often the forgotten victims of family violence. Melbourne based family lawyer, Amelia Beveridge, will be speaking at the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference in May about the potential role a veterinarian has in identifying family violence and assisting the women and animals involved.

“Animal abuse is often considered a ‘first step’ on the path to human violence. In this sense, many women who are suffering emotional, financial or psychological abuse may see their pets suffer physical violence before they are physically abused themselves,” she said.

A study of women entering refuges after fleeing family violence found that seventy-one percent of those who owned pets reported that their perpetrator had threatened, hurt or killed their pets. Another survey found that sixty percent of women delayed leaving their abusive partner because of their pet.

At the AVA Conference, Ms Beveridge will raise the question of whether veterinarians can play a crucial role in early intervention of family violence, and if so, what barriers may prevent a vet from being able to meaningfully assist an abused woman or animal.

“A recent study of women in refuges found that only two participants had confided in their family vet about the abuse of their animal. There are also limited options available for vets to ensure animals are provided safety when there are suspicions of family violence.”

A New Zealand study of veterinarians has found that vets manage animal abuse in several ways. For example, twenty-eight percent address the issue with the client first and report only severe cases. Some struggled with the certainty of their suspicions and others did not act for fear of being confronted by clients.

“The New Zealand study also highlighted the need for additional training in this area with twenty-six percent of vets surveyed stating that they felt dealing with family violence was outside their professional experience or they did not have the skills to deal with human abuse,” Ms Beveridge said.

The RSPCA has recently made a submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence and recommended mandatory reporting of family violence for all veterinarians as well as training and reporting mechanisms for early intervention for veterinarians.

“Currently, there are no women’s shelters or refuges that accept both women and pets. However, there are pet shelters that will provide temporary shelter for animal victims of family violence.

“If a veterinarian suspects an animal is a victim of family violence, referrals to pet emergency shelters are crucial. As many women are unaware of these services, it is recommended that posters and/or brochures be made available in veterinary hospital waiting areas.”

The AVA annual conference is being held 22-27 May at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

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