Domestic Violence and Its Health Consequences

Domestic violence is an issue that will occasionally make its way into public headlines, as was the case recently with NFL player, Ray Rice; however, the majority of these situations occur behind closed doors.

According to Susan Delaney, founder of the Medical Advocacy Project (MAP) for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center Connecticut and also this week’s guest on Dr. Abram’s podcast, four women are killed everyday here in the U.S. from the hands of their partner.

Ms. Delaney believes that the key to effectively address this issue is to take a holistic approach that entails the services of a wide range of professionals from counselors and law enforcement to the medical community. It should be emphasized that domestic violence is a community problem, not “their” problem. No one can or should confront this challenge alone. We also need to educate the bystander as to how to appropriately respond.

Educating medical professionals in particular has been largely overlooked by domestic violence agencies in the past, which is why current programs such as MAP are encouraging physicians to adequately screen patients. This is important to address because domestic violence can have an immense impact on a victim’s physical health (e.g. diabetes, asthma, heart disease) leading to emotional and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The police and the medical community are often the first point of contact for the victim. This unique position allows the MAP trained professional to properly screen the victim and offer appropriate care immediately, whether it be medical, legal, psychological or a referral to a Safe House. It is essential that the first point of contact be non-judgemental and accepting, increasing the likelihood of the victim to return or follow through on the referral.

It is no secret that domestic violence victims are often fearful to reveal their situation to anyone, but they are more likely to accept help from their doctor if the professional compassionately expresses concern and offers helpful resources. This is why, according to Sue Delaney, it is crucial for medical professionals to: (1) educate themselves on the domestic violence problem, and how to properly screen, (2) become aware of resources within their communities, and (3) create awareness in their offices. Connecting victims to advocates will increase the likelihood that they’ll reach out to attain other services such as counseling by 33%, making it so important for the medical community to become a part of this comprehensive approach.

It is also important, however, for the public to understand why victims often shy away from receiving help, the number one reason being fear of death. When news broke of Ray Rice violently hitting his fiancé, many blamed her for the occurrence. In order to break this cycle of violence we must stop judging and acknowledge that the only person responsible in these situations is the one performing the violent act. Sue Delaney stresses that we must all become a part of the solution and she hopes that the attention the Ray Rice situation has received will have far-reaching, positive consequences for victims, including those behind the scenes.

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, contact the Domestic Violence Crisis Center’s 24 hours hotline at 888-774-2900 or visit their website at www.dvccct.org. People do not choose to be victims of domestic violence but thanks in part to the efforts made by advocates like Sue Delaney, there are resources to help them escape it.

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