Defusing abuse: Helping victims of domestic violence
One in four women and one in nine men have experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence or family violence, is defined as physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse used by one person in a current or former relationship to assert power and control over another person. Anyone can be a victim – loved ones, colleagues or patients.
Fortunately, domestic violence victims have many resources available to help. “As employees of Yale New Haven Health, we are lucky to have resources right at our fingertips,” said Thomas Saxa, RN, patient service manager, Yale New Haven Hospital York Street Campus Emergency Department (ED).
Medical staff, Pastoral Care chaplains, social workers and YNHHS’ Employee and Family Resources (EFR) program can help victims access everything from counseling to financial assistance to safety shelters, including safe havens for families and pets.
Saxa said, “Every person who comes through the ED is asked ‘Do you feel safe at home?’ as part of our routine screening. However, victims of domestic violence may not divulge abuse out of fear for themselves or their loved ones.”
There are other ways to identify abuse, said Domingos Martins, RN, patient service manager, Saint Raphael Campus ED.
“Physical signs may include visible injuries in multiple locations on the body, or bilateral injuries, especially on extremities, but other signs may not be as self-evident. We look for behavioral clues, such as poor eye contact, depression or withdrawal, inconsistencies in the story behind an injury and a person’s reluctance to speak on his or her own behalf.”
If the medical team suspects abuse, they’ll ask a social worker to consult with the patient.
Sharon Moales, LCSW, YSC ED lead social worker said, “We set a non-judgmental, empathetic stage and actively listen to patients and evaluate them for signs of abuse.”
Patients requesting immediate help can be referred directly to a shelter. If patients are reluctant to accept assistance, Moales said the Social Work team lets them know “there is help when you’re ready.”
Healthcare providers are required to report suspected abuse involving minors, elders, people with disabilities and residents of long-term care facilities. In all other cases, however, a report cannot be filed unless the victim wants to seek help. Unfortunately many people don’t reach out until their situations become difficult to manage or escape.
EFR Coordinator Bud Wassell offered this advice to anyone experiencing domestic violence: “Don’t wait. Free and confidential services are available 24/7, 365 days a year to employees personally experiencing abuse, and those who are suspicious of a potential case of domestic violence.”
This month, EFR is focusing on healthy relationships, and offers employees an online relationship assessment.
YNHHS has many resources available to assist domestic violence victims. If danger is imminent, immediately call 911 or, in Connecticut, text to 911.