You may not know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When you see folks sporting purple wrist bands and heavily dressed in purple this month, they are doing so in order to bring this important issue to our attention. It needs our attention not only this month, but across the other 11 months of the year. We need to get the problems of domestic violence and intimate partner violence out in the open and let those who have been suffering in silence and fear know that there is help for them here across Connecticut and across our nation. The stories are tragic and almost too numerous to mention. Whether or not you know it, you undoubtedly know someone who is in this situation, because this type of violence comes in many forms from physical, to psychological, to financial. Perhaps it is your story!
A 7:30 AM forum held this morning on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) presented a stark reality of just how large a public health problem this is to a packed room at Stamford Hospital’s Tully Center. Yes, it is a public health problem, because the ramifications of being abused have so many lifelong physical, mental and emotional ramifications that can last a lifetime and the incidence and prevalence is high. This costs the individual dearly and it has a high cost to society financially and in other ways.
Many think domestic violence is a women’s issue, and it is, but it is also a men’s issue, a teen-dating issue and a children’s issue. It affects the young and the old and everyone in between. It is a gay, lesbian and transgender issue. It affects people from every socioeconomic group and across all the cultural divides that make up our great nation. The people being impacted by domestic abuse and intimate partner abuse need help on many levels including legal, counseling, housing, safe-house options, and health and social services care.
Can you just imagine being the victim of such abuse and feeling trapped and alone with your problem and with your injuries? Imagine having no money or resources to help yourself, or being so afraid of the consequences of trying to do so that you are immobilized and left to feel powerless. Isolating people and separating victims from those who would help or support them are so very commonly part of what the abuser orchestrates. Imagine being injured so severely that you need to go to the hospital or emergency room but the person who did this to you is right there with you…often speaking for you…and you know that you will have no voice in the situation? Imagine being patched up and sent back home with your abuser because your caregivers don’t know your plight and you either don’t know how to ask for help or you’re afraid to?
Presenters at this conference came from the Centers’ for Disease Control, from the Domestic Violence Crisis Center (located in Stamford and New Canaan), and from Stamford Hospital. The hospital has initiated a wonderful training and public education marketing campaign and program for their own and the greater-Stamford community practitioners, as well as a support program for their own staff, as it became known to them that many of their employees were in abusive situations, often with protective orders. I’d bet the folks at Stamford Hospital are not alone in this problem. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all our local hospital’s across Connecticut and beyond on board with this far-reaching public health initiative?
It was evident that we can do better on every level to remediate this problem. We need our community physicians, nurses, social workers and clergy to be trained to recognize the subtleties of the problem and to learn how to initiate “the conversation”, screen, and provide support and referral to help when someone comes to their office. This needs to become a routine part of health, social service, and support-site visits so that the issue is de-stigmatized and people are reached in place and whenever an opportunity presents itself.
A simple 4-question assessment screening tool was presented to be used in privacy and away from the hearing of an intimate partner. It simply asks whether you have ever been emotionally or physically abused by a partner, been hit, slapped or physically hurt or been forced to have sex against your will,
and if so, by whom. It asks openly if you are afraid of your partner. This takes a matter of minutes and lets the person know that this is a societal problem because you preface this by letting them know that everyone who visits is being asked these questions, not just you.
We can do better legislatively because domestic abuse and 24-hour sheltering is inadequately funded to meet the extent of the problem. We need to put a human face on this issue for our legislators who don’t come from human services backgrounds so that it is not merely seen as yet another draw on already limited resources.
Public health agencies and the media can play a key role in public education and in keeping this problem an everyday issue, not a one-month a year problem. They can spread the word about what subtle abuse, financial abuse and intimidation can look like; that it’s not only being beaten or maimed. They can
publicize how to get help and where to go; they can let victims know help is out there and that they can be protected and shielded as they leave an untenable situation, the most risky time for a victim.
Schools can step up even more to begin educating children early about the fact that being abused, or being the abuser is not okay, and that there is help for people on both sides of the problem; many abusers were abused themselves. Teens can be taught that they may be the ones to recognize dating abuse in their friends and what they can do to get help for them.
Let’s work together as a collaboration of faith-based groups, public and private agencies and businesses, and as concerned legislators towards resolving this issue and getting help for the victims. We can do better. As a civilized society can we do any less?
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