Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Are We Missing (or Why Do We Miss It?)

Perhaps you've seen the reports about the study from the University of Pennsyvania that found about 80 percent of female victims of intimate partner violence are treated in U.S. hospitals, but most are not identified as abuse victims.

The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found of the women treated in hospital emergency rooms, 72 percent are not identified as abuse victims, and of those who are identified, few are offered adequate support.

It is interesting because many hospitals have mandated protocols regarding domestic violence - it is also interesting because (quoting the study here) "Women who had filed a police complaint the day of treatment, had been taken to the hospital by police, had self-disclosed domestic assault, or had mental health and substance abuse issues were more likely to be identified as victims of domestic violence."

Why is that interesting to me?  Because ER staff may do what many of us tend to do..."assume" what a victim of domestic violence looks like or what they might be like.....not realizing a victim of domestic violence could really be anyone who walks into the ER.

Just like a victim could be anyone walking through our workplaces.

I remember doing a training for managers at one of our CAEPV member companies and talking about some of the potential signs a person might be a victim of domestic violence -- but then noting "Or -- the person may not show ANY of these signs....your overachieving greatest worker may be suffering from domestic violence at home."

A manager looked at me, sighed, and said (rather exasperated) "Then how am I supposed to know WHO is my victim of domestic violence?"

I said "You aren't." 

I explained that a manager wants to make sure everyone who works for him/her gets the resources and information about domestic violence to all employees.  Because you just never know who may be a victim.

So - why does the ER "miss" domestic violence?  Why does the workplace miss it?

I think we "miss it" because we "want to find our victim".....we want to think we "know" what a person who commits domestic violence looks like...or what a person who lives through domestic violence looks like.

But we don't.

So I think I understand why (protocols aside), emergency room staff struggle just like we all do.  We miss it because we think "it can't be that person." (Even if we don't consciously think it.)

It is a good lesson to learn - by assuming who is NOT a victim, we may not give information, or ask a question that may save a life.  Not only at a hospital, or a doctor's office....but at a workplace, a school, a community of faith, a family....anywhere.


Unknown said...

Hi, I just started reading your blog and appreciated your thoughts here.

I loved your exchange with the manager, because you're right, we don't have to know the "who." If assumptions must be made, perhaps it would be better to assume that everyone is a victim and to use that framework to present the information. Even if employees are not experiencing domestic abuse, they may know someone who is. Who knows how far our words will reach?

Kim Wells said...

Lauren - thank you for your comment and your wonderful observation that even if employees themselves are not experiencing domestic violence, they may know someone who is, so the awareness may reach farther than we will ever know!

Anonymous said...

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