Task Force Recommends All Women Be Screened For Domestic Violence

Feb 20, 2013

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- How would you feel if your doctor asked if you were the victim of domestic violence?  That's the recommendation by a national preventive services task force.

Domestic abuse affects one in the three women and one in four men, but the officials who help these people say getting them to come forward can be a challenge, and this new recommendation may help overcome that.

"He used to hit me in the side of my head."

Ann is no stranger to pain.

"I was pregnant with the baby and he put all of his weight on my stomach, put his hands around my throat," she said.

Still, it's the emotional pain that left real scars.

"I was always put down, downgraded.  'You'll never amount to anything.' 'Why go back to school?  You're stupid.'"

She says it started with her mother whose boyfriends sexually abused her and ends, she swears, with her husband.  She tolerated the lifetime of abuse-- at least in part-- because no one ever asked her about it; not a friend, not a doctor.
Ann now has a home in Springfield's Harmony House.  The shelter director says, like Ann, most women come on their own accord.  Thousands of others in the area don't come at all.

"If their doctors were screening them for domestic violence or if employers were educated on domestic violence and they saw the signs then that would help immensely," said Angela Shelley.

That's what a national task force is now recommending for all medical providers.  Dr. Jason Carter is a step ahead.

"Now we're able to get all the people involved in one room and talk about what happens with victims of sexual violence and up to this point people had worked together loosely and now it's formal."

He recently formed SART, Mercy's Sexual Assault Response Team.  It partners with the health department, shelters, and law enforcement to identify and the help victims of sexual abuse.

If anyone comes into the Mercy ER for any reason, even something as unrelated as an earache, the first thing the nurse will ask that person is "Do you feel safe at home?"  If the answer is no, then the line of questioning continues.

"I think in many cases people who perpetrate violence against others do so in a position of power and control, and [the victims] may not feel there's an opportunity to address it unless they're specifically asked," Carter said.

Ann says that's exactly what happened to her.  The abuse was easy to deny when she didn't have to.  Now that it's out there she can finally start to get over it.

"I'm working on it," she said.  "I don't have someone controlling my life or telling me what I can't do, what I'm not able to do."

Like Mercy's partnership with other agencies to tackle sexual abuse Harmony House has started a similar task force specifically for domestic violence.  It
Harmony House's 90 day shelter can accomodate 110 women and children and is almost always full.  Last year the organization provided overnight shelter 34,000 times.  For a link to the Harmony House website, click here.