October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Purple ribbons and buttons are worn as symbols to raise awareness of this very serious social problem that causes many to live their lives in fear. As mandated reporters, healthcare professionals play a pivotal role in identifying signs of abuse and directing victims to the right resources.
A person who is suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home may not always be forthcoming about what is taking place behind closed doors on a visit to their primary medical care center or urgent care clinic. Thus, it is up to the healthcare professionals to recognize the signs and investigate further.
According to the Office of Domestic Violence at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as, “a pattern of behaviors that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners or former partners to establish power and control.” DCF also shares that child abuse tends to be more prevalent in homes and families where domestic violence occurs.
Signs of domestic violence are not always obvious. While a healthcare provider at a primary medical care center or an urgent care clinic may immediately recognize inconsistencies in physical injuries and the stories of how such injuries were sustained, the non-physical signs may require more acute awareness.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFB) recommends that all women of childbearing age should be screened for IPV and those who screen positive should receive intervention services. Healthcare professionals have many IPV screening tools available to them. While most reported cases of DV or IPV are of female victims, it is imperative for healthcare professionals to be aware that men can also be victims, whether they are in same-sex or heterosexual relationships.
The most important tool that any healthcare provider can employ is establishing trust and showing compassion and a willingness to act on the information received. Everyone, regardless of profession, has a moral duty to report domestic violence. The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline +1-800-500-1119 is operated by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV). It is a statewide, 24-hour service, with prompts in English, Spanish, and Creole.