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Learning to identify abuse and violence

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Published on Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Domestic violence, also known as Intimate Partner Violence, is one of the leading forms of violence against women. It is a major public health problem with devastating short- and long-term consequences for the victims, their families, and the community. At the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and in accord with the University’s commitment to the UN’s Orange week campaign, we discussed this global issue with Raquel Gómez Bravo, Medical Doctor and PhD researcher at the University of Luxembourg. Ms Gómez Bravo developed a project on "Effects of an e-learning platform to improve primary care physicians response to Intimate Partner violence", under the supervision of Prof. Dr Claus Vögele.

“In 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown had led to an 11% increase in calls to the police relating to cases of domestic abuse. One death related to domestic abuse was also recorded. The year prior to that had already seen a 14% rise in domestic violence cases,” states the National Council for Women in Luxembourg (CNFL) in an article published in Delano.1

Before the pandemic started, data from the World Health Organisation showed that 1 in 3 women worldwide, which equates to around 736 million, are subject to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner in their lifetime.2 It is estimated that in 2017 in Luxembourg 38% of women experienced domestic violence. However, these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, as violence and abuse still remain largely unreported.

The COVID-19 crisis has even worsened the problem; the UN WOMEN’s Executive director, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka described the situation as the “shadow” pandemic. In simple terms, there is a parallel pandemic to the COVID-19 pandemic that it is not addressed properly. Lockdowns, reduced mobility, increased isolation, stress and economic uncertainty have transformed many homes into traps triggering episodes of violence and abuse.

Even though awareness of this global issue has increased over the last decade, approximately 80% of health professionals have never received any training on how to manage and address this problem3 . “There is a significant gap between the magnitude of the problem, its serious consequences and an adequate training offer,” says Raquel Gómez Bravo, PhD researcher at the University of Luxembourg. As a result, the WHO and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have recently published guidelines emphasising the urgent need to improve the education of frontline healthcare professionals.

Ms Gómez Bravo and her colleagues have developed an e-learning programme to improve family doctors’ responses to Intimate Private Violence (IPV)4 . The platform helps to deliver a comprehensive and tailored training for general practitioners on how to deal with IPV. The effectiveness is currently being assessed using the Physician Readiness to Manage Intimate partner violence Survey (PREMIS) with pre/post-test assessments and 6 months follow up. The PREMIS questionnaire assesses previous and current knowledge on intimate partner violence, attitudes and practice.

Currently the programme is being implemented in Spain, the country of origin of Ms Gómez Bravo. She hopes to get the necessary funding in the framework of the IMOCAFV5 international study, to implement the training programme for all healthcare professionals in Luxembourg, a country she believes has the best potential to lead the fight against domestic violence.

“Statistics show that abused women use healthcare services more than non-abused women, and they also identify healthcare providers as the professionals that they would trust the most when disclosing the abuse,” says Ms Gómez Bravo. She adds that learning to identify abuse and violence is in her opinion an essential part of GPs’ competences.

How can I help?

As cases of domestic violence increase worldwide, the general population also has a part to play in ending domestic abuse and violence. Through daily interaction with colleagues, family members and friends we can learn to recognise the warning signs and act accordingly.

To those concerned about someone who may be experiencing domestic violence or abuse, Raquel Gómez Bravo suggests starting the conversation asking how things are going at home. Gómez Bravo explains: “How are things going at home? is a question that is used as a door-opener by many professionals. The potential victim can identify this question as a safe space to speak.”

To continue the conversation, Ms Gómez Bravo suggests using the LIVES approach recommended by World Health Organisation:

  • Listen closely, with empathy and no judgement
  • Inquire about women’s needs and concerns
  • Validate women’s experiences. Show you believe and understand.
  • Enhance their safety.
  • Support women to connect with additional services.

The Signal for Help – recognise the sign

In the company of the abuser, it may often not be possible for victims to speak out. Launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation during the pandemic, the Signal for Help6 is a simple one-handed sign the Foundation felt anyone could use on a video call or elsewhere to silently show they needed someone to check in. In early November, a teenager who went missing in the US has been found after she used Sign for Help that went viral on TikTok.7 Learning and sharing this hand sign will help spread awareness, enable more victims of violence to ask for help in a safe way, and hopefully even save lives,” added Raquel Gómez Bravo.


Domestic violence is a complex problem that must be addressed from a multidisciplinary perspective. “Unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Raquel Gómez Bravo looks at Luxembourg with ambition and hope. “In my view, Luxembourg has a unique mix of ingredients that, if combined well, can make it a country leading the fight against domestic violence.” For Ms Gómez Bravo these ingredients include the strong research institutions, political will, solid educational policy, available resources for victims, survivors and abusers, coordinated with social services, psychological support, police forces, and the legal and health system.

In her words, we can all do something; we all have a responsibility to change the world and evolve into a society that no longer tolerates abuse and violence.

About Raquel Gómez Bravo

Raquel Gómez Bravo is a PhD researcher at the University of Luxembourg. She developed a project on the "Effects of an e-learning platform to improve primary care physicians response to family violence" under the supervision of Prof. Dr Claus Vögele. Ms Gómez Bravo is a Medical Doctor with a specialisation in Family and Community Medicine and a Master’s degree in Urgencies and Emergencies. She is also an active member of WONCA, World Organization of Family Doctors, recently elected as Co-Chair of the WONCA Special Interest Group on Family Violence (SIGFV).


The University of Luxembourg’s commitment

As a higher education institution, we have a duty to speak out and raise the debate on the violence suffered by women and girls. At the occasion of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign this November, the University will raise awareness for gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence, through internal communication campaign, social media posts and events. On Thursday 25 November, the University organises a movie projection of Little Stones on Belval campus. The University also turned its website orange as a sign of commitment to the campaign.

For more information about Gender Equality and the University of Luxembourg’s policy towards gender-related issues, please have a look at the dedicated webpage.

The University’s researchers carry out several studies that explore domestic and family violence related to other other topics: 

COME-HERE Study: How do different confinement measures affect people in Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden?

PRICOV-19 Study:  A multi-country study on quality of care and patient safety in primary care in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I-SHARE: International Sexual Health And REproductive Health

IMOCAFV: Improving opportunities for primary care and advocacy for family violence


Additional resources


1 https://delano.lu/article/violence-against-women-comes-i
2 https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence
3 https://www.jmir.org/2019/5/e13868/
4 Based on Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence (WHO, 2013) intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.
5 https://efjca.eu/news/fjc-news/imocafv-project-launches-questionnaire-to-collect-descriptive-information-worldwide-about-the-approach-to-domestic-violence
6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFLZEQFIm7k&t=41s
7 https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-59206549