By Karen Roush, MS, RN, FNP-C, clinical managing editor
I am a nurse. I am a doctoral candidate and a writer. I am a domestic violence survivor. I lived for years with fear and uncertainty—will this be a good day, a day of laughter and affection? Or a brutal day of fists and humiliation? Like many women experiencing domestic violence, I hid it from my family and friends. In fact, I even hid it from myself. I couldn’t see myself as a battered woman, wouldn’t accept that I was that kind of person. But domestic violence doesn’t happen to a certain kind of woman—it happens to anyone, rich or poor, college educated or high school dropout, urban and rural, of every ethnicity. We—you and I—all are the faces of domestic violence.
Just ask. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How many of your patients have you asked about domestic violence this month? Or any month? Twenty? Ten? None? Screening matters. One of every four women you see has experienced domestic violence. Research tells us that women will talk about it when asked by a provider that they feel cares and can be trusted. They will leave an abusive situation when they feel supported and resources are available to them.
Yes, many return to the abuser; I know it took me a few times to completely, finally break away. But each time a woman tries to change her life, each time they hear that their well-being matters, brings them one step closer to safety. Do not underestimate the courage it takes to leave. These women are in real danger. The rate and severity of violence escalates dramatically when a perpetrator feels control slipping away. Do not judge—offer support, resources, and realistic options.
Resources. You can search the Internet for local community resources using the term domestic violence resources along with the name of your county and state. The next time you go to work, call up the social work and discharge-planning departments and find out what resources are available in your hospital. Share the information with your coworkers. And most important—talk to your patients about it. If you’re concerned that a woman will be insulted or angry that you’re asking (studies indicate that the majority are not), begin by saying, “We know that 25% of women experience domestic abuse. Since there are no outward signs, I ask all my patients about it.”
If you’re in an abusive situation, reach out to friends, family, and your health care provider. Talk to someone you trust about what is happening. Begin to build a support network. Abusers need to isolate those they prey upon, and they’re very good at doing that. Breaking through that isolation is the first step for your well-being and safety.
Silence is deadly. All of us—nurses, survivors, friends and family of women in abusive situations— need to speak up. It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month—what better time to start?
Editor’s note: Please remember to check out the upcoming November issue for a study about intimate partner violence among veterans, as well as an article on how to screen for and talk to patients about domestic violence. Here’s a link to a page listing numerous articles AJN has published in the past about aspects of domestic violence. Some require a subscription; some do not. Of particular interest may be the following:
“No One Asked What Happened” – Viewpoint essay from 2009 by Karen Roush; free
“Partner Abuse of Adult Women” (part one of a two-part article; free, if you click through to the “full text” or PDF versions in the right sidebar of the page)
“Psychosocial Aspects of Partner Abuse” (part two of a two-part article; free, if you click through to “full text” or PDF)