Welcome to part one of our Inspirational Interview with Dr. Angela Jay, a trainee fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) currently working in Sydney, Australia.
Dr Jay has a Master’s degree in reproductive medicine and is an advocate for White Ribbon Australia, a campaign battling violence against women. Angela is also a personal survivor of violence against women, escaping attempted murder at the hands of a man she briefly dated. In 2017, she hiked the Larapinta Trail for White Ribbon’s “Trek for Respect,” raising $80,000 for domestic violence prevention programs for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Dr. Jay has also had the honour of speaking at several events addressing domestic violence, including the 2017 White Ribbon Breakfast in Australia’s Parliament, engaging the nation’s leaders about the significance of VAW in the Australian community.
Part two of Dr. Jay’s interview will be published on 29 January 2018.
All pictures are courtesy of Dr. Angela Jay and RANZCOG.
My personal recovery after such a horrific event has certainly been a journey, and I am continuing to explore what “rebuilding my life” means to me.
The most important step in healing has been learning to accept help from others and realising that it is okay to not be okay. I am so lucky to be surrounded people who have given me strength as I struggle along — mental health support from my psychologist and general practitioner, understanding and kindness from my colleagues, and lots of love from family and friends.
Also, experiencing such trauma has been a grieving process, with the sense that the person I once was is lost forever. I am continuing to rediscover who I am as a person, and I have found purpose in my new identity through advocacy and fundraising work. Making the most of the life I almost lost by contributing to the conversation about gendered violence and giving back to my community helps me feel like I survived for a reason.
2. How did your family, friends, and community react to the knowledge that you survived stalking? What advice would you give to family members, friends, and communities who suspect that their sister/friend/community member might be being stalked or facing any other form of violence against women (VAW)?
Family and friends were absolutely shocked by the revelation that I had survived stalking and the subsequent violence I endured. In the weeks leading up to the attack, I felt incredibly ashamed to be in such a vulnerable position and found it impossible to open up to those around me. Instead, I remained silent and did my best to hide the fear I felt at every moment. I think the community was particularly surprised by my experience, as it challenged common beliefs about who the “typical victim” of violence against women is.
Even though one in five Australian women have been stalked during their lifetime, it is natural to believe that such awful things won’t happen to you or your loved ones. I believe when survivors share their stories it contributes to the awareness that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. If you suspect someone you know is the victim of stalking or violence, my advice is to fight the urge to victim blame. Instead, reassure them that they are not responsible for the violence, and listen to them free from judgement.
3. Recently, you wrote the editorial piece for a special issue of RANZCOG’s O&G magazine that focused on VAW and what healthcare professionals can do for patients who face domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, and female genital mutilation. Why did O&G choose to focus on the topic of VAW in the summer edition?
Focusing on a central theme each issue, O&G magazine reports on the latest topics in the practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. The magazine, in print and online, encourages the free flow of ideas, information and debate among the membership of the College and the broader community involved in women’s healthcare. The editorial advisory committee, with support from President Steve Robson, chose to devote the Summer 2017 issue to the topic of preventing VAW, calling the issue ‘Silent Epidemic.’
The aim was to not only raise awareness to the 5,500 members of the college who receive the magazine, but also highlight available resources and serve as a beacon of best practices. This issue was a showcase for innovative programs, in particular the Royal Women’s Hospital, who are leaders in the field.
It was serendipitous that there was a change to public healthcare funding in the month before the magazine was published, which means Australian women can now access a range of services, including screening for domestic violence before, during, and after pregnancy. This was an important and welcomed change to the way the health system provides support for pregnant women, particularly for women experiencing violence or at risk of violence. RANZCOG ran news items and sent members a video message from the president and me to alert them to this important development in Australian healthcare.
4. Healthcare professionals are uniquely placed to help women and girls facing VAW given that doctors, nurses, surgeons, and paramedics are on the frontline of treating the physical injuries and trauma sustained by victims. In your opinion, what are the particular challenges that healthcare professionals face when dealing with VAW?
The first challenge healthcare professionals face when dealing with VAW is identifying which patients are affected, as victims and survivors often find their experiences difficult to talk about or believe their situation is “normal.” Universal screening for VAW is becoming more common in various healthcare settings as women are more likely to disclose violence and abuse if asked, and it is generally well-received.
To maximise safety, patients should always be asked about violence and abuse alone, separate from her partner or other family members. Practitioners need to judge whether to enquire using broad questions about relationships and well-being, or whether directly asking about violence is appropriate. Furthermore, healthcare professionals are more likely to successfully detect VAW if they can adequately built rapport, trust, and ensure confidentiality with their patients.
5. As a doctor yourself, what do you think healthcare professionals can do to help victims of VAW beyond providing medical treatment?
As healthcare professionals, our role to support victims and survivors of VAW extends well beyond simply providing medical treatment. When faced with a disclosure of violence or abuse, it is vital to respond appropriately and with an empathetic, non-judgemental attitude. Empowering women and girls through listening, validating their emotions, and emphasising the unacceptability of violence can make a huge impact.
I believe it is also a doctor’s duty to consider safety planning and assist with referrals to police, specialised domestic violence services, legal aid, and other support agencies when accepted. In some circumstances, particularly when children are involved, health professionals may be obligated to by local mandatory reporting requirements to involve Community Services to help ensure safety and well-being. Most of all, depending on your role, it may be important to offer continuing care, with the knowledge that current violence may escalate, victims may be ready for support or interventions in their own time as confidence improves, and survivors of past abuse will likely experience long-term health impacts.