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Domestic Violence Training in Hospitals

Posted Oct 02 2009 3:07pm

Two years ago I was brought into St. Lukes Hospital in Orange County NY for a severely injured left leg. I was carried in on a stretcher by EMTs, followed by my abuser. I was given a room and got immediate attention by the staff, and the team of medical personnel did a wonderful job in stabilizing me and taking care of my injured body. With my abuser at my side, I was asked questions by the staff members, questions like "how did this happen?". My husband answered for me, naturally, he wanted to hide the abuse and conceal the truth. I was afraid, in shock, and immobile, and I lied that night in the ER. For a few moments, I was taken out of my small hospital room and was wheeled off to get X-rays. I was alone, finally. Nurses tried to make conversation with me and asked what had happened, and I told them "my husband did this to me". The conversation was over at that point, and everyone became uncomfortable. I got my X-rays not too long after the conversation and found that I had three breaks in my left leg, and I needed surgery. I went home with my abuser that night.

Today was court. Today I was prepared for a trial for my order of protection in Rockland County NY, under Judge Christopher. While preparing for my trial, I realized that the way a scene of a domestic violence crime is handled by law enforcement and medical personnel is critical for the victim. In my case, I was never once separated from my abuser the day of the injury, not when the police arrived, and not when I got into the ER. This changed everything. I was too afraid to tell the truth about what had happened to me to the officers when the injury took place, and I was too afraid to tell my Dr. what happened to me at the hospital because my abuser was hovering over me the whole time. My abuser was at my side the entire night, helping the police file a false police report, his version, and telling the Dr. that my injury was a result of "playing around/wrestling". Looking back on this situation, both at my home with the police and at the hospital, I've realized that had the hospital staff been trained in recognizing the signs of DV, my case against my abuser would have been stronger today. It is critical to have accurate accounts of what happened at the scene of any violent crime, especially DV crimes, because too often, battered women are too afraid to report abuse to the police. In my case, even though I sustained severe injuries, there are no reports stating that the injuries stemmed from abuse. Thankfully, I did file an amended police report about the abuse at a later date, but I was lucky.

Although the scene of my domestic violence incident was not handled properly, I was still prepared for court today. I was prepared to tell my story of brutal violence, and I was prepared to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth. I was prepared to explain why I couldn't tell the police the real story that day, and I was prepared to explain why I couldn't tell my Dr. the real story either. The truth is, I was never left alone with any member of law enforcement and I was never left alone with my Dr. long enough to tell the truth that night. When I arrived at court, I was ready to give my testimony and I was ready and eager to hear my husband's testimony. But, I never got to testify because my abuser consented to the permanent restraining order and I was able to walk out of court today with my order of protection (1 year OP).

Although I was able to get my order of protection, I am still disturbed about something. Today I phoned St. Lukes Hospital in Newburgh NY and asked to speak with someone in the hospital that would know about staff member domestic violence training. I am certain that there are hospitals in Ulster County, Rockland County, and Westchester County that have local shelters train hospital staff members about recognizing the signs of violence. But after I asked the question, no one knew of any "DV training" in the hospital, and I wasn't surprised considering I was a victim of violence and no one saw the signs two years ago when I was brought in on a stretcher. So, I left a message with the Education Department and I emailed my question directly to the hospital. I am waiting for a reply, but this is an issue I want to address. It is critical for victims of domestic violence to have at least one accurate record about the abuse on the day of the injury. These documents are critical for the courts and hospitals should be trained to recognize the signs of abuse and they should be following a protocol, possibly making a confidential DV file for the patient, and giving victims safety plans.
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