During 2013, 119 women were killed in Texas by their male intimate partner, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. This included 21 women who had previously taken steps to leave their violent relationships, and 55 children who were present for and watched their mothers die.
Not only is October Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but Oct. 8, 2014, was designated as Health Cares About Domestic Violence Day, educating health care professionals about the importance of screening for domestic abuse. I spent the day at a meeting of the Task Force on Domestic Violence listening to three survivors speak about their experiences with family violence. Established by House Bill 2620 in the 83rd Texas Legislature, the task force is charged with researching the impact of domestic violence on mothers’ mortality and health, and infants’ mortality, health, and development.
A hot topic that the survivors spoke about is the importance of physicians screening for domestic violence and ways to make victims more comfortable and more likely to speak up. It isn’t as easy as asking if they feel safe at home, the women explained. Not all victims feel unsafe at home, some women will be afraid of exposing their abusers, and many of their abusers will be present for said screening. Isolating possible victims from anyone they arrived at the hospital or clinic with is key. The survivors also spoke to the impact of small gestures – sitting down to be eye level with possible victims, keeping eye contact with them during discussion, both simple signs to let them know they can trust you as a physician.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the task force and what it is currently doing, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will also be an Intimate Partner Violence Healthcare Summit aimed at health care professionals and held by the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council on Oct. 24, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., in Houston. Register for $25 here.