Do you feel safe in your relationship? Have you ever felt afraid or threatened? Have you been hurt? These questions sound so simple, but can you answer them? Or do the answers feel complicated?
Domestic violence is very common, affecting more than 32 million Americans. The graphic images of the Ray Rice video and the revealing words shared in the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft Twitter movements have been a wake-up call that violence is happening all around us behind closed doors. This is a problem that doesn’t spare any race, age group, or socioeconomic status.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, whether it’s emotional or physical, who can you turn to? Do you feel like you can talk to your doctor or nurse?
As a primary care doctor, I can tell you it’s not uncommon for us to see patients who are dealing with abuse; so, you won’t be the first person, or the last, to share that kind of experience with us. I want to share with you how I speak with my patients who are in an abusive situation:
Support: I’m glad you’re sharing this with me. And I’m sorry you’re going through this. You don’t deserve this; no one does.
What I won’t do: I won’t judge you. Abuse is complicated. It’s about power and control. It’s about fear and shame. It can leave you isolated and lonely. And it can happen to anyone. You’re strong to be here now, taking care of yourself.
Safety Plan: I’ll ask you: What makes you fearful? What are you in danger of? It’s important to have a safety plan:
An emergency packet with your important documents and money together ready to grab
A place to go
A signal to let others know to call 911
What I won’t do: I won’t force you to leave your partner or do anything you’re not comfortable with. You’re in charge.
Resources: I’ll refer you to organizations that can help you. A great place to start is the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 800 799 SAFE. I can also give you information to reach out to counselors, support groups, Legal Aid, and social services.
More Support: I’m not done. I’ll be here for you, step by step, every doctor’s visit. Now that I know more about what’s going on in your life, I can better treat your medical conditions.
As your doctor, I’ll do what I can to help you take steps to make the abuse a part of your history and build the life you want now and for the future.