October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the team of forensic nurses from Meritus Medical Center want the community to aware of the issues that continue to grow in our own community.
One in four women, and one in nine men, in the United States experience violence from an intimate partner. This includes physical abuse, sexual assault, verbal and emotional abuse, stalking and other forms of control.
Typically, a victim will experience more than one type of abuse.
“Domestic violence often starts as controlling behaviors with emotional abuse and escalates to physical violence. Our team of forensic nurse examiners see an average of 75 cases of violence of all ages per month, and the number continues to rise,” explained Jennifer McNew, forensic nurse manager at Meritus Medical Center.
There are many reasons that people stay in an abusive relationship. Some of those reasons include fear of increased violence, lack of a support system and finances, potential homelessness and if there are children. McNew explained that many people feel that having a two-parent household with abuse is better than being a single parent. However, this exposes children to violence, which can cause problems in school, friends and their health.
“You cannot help or fix your abusive partner. Violence will only escalate. Staying in an abusive relationship can have long-lasting mental and physical health effects,” she said.
Some of the long-term effects of domestic violence include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain and memory loss from traumatic brain injuries and strangulation.
Domestic violence is not discriminatory.
“It occurs within all income and education levels, races, gender identities and age ranges. Members of the LGBTQ community are eight times more likely to experience domestic violence in a relationship,” McNew explained.
The forensic nurse examiners at Meritus Medical Center have undergone extensive training in assault and abuse. Including 160 hours of additional training to be able to provide this specialized care.
Additionally, this specialized team works closely with a multi-disciplinary group that includes law enforcement, attorneys, victim advocates and protective services for both adults and children.
“The team of forensic nurse examiners at Meritus Medical Center work with victims of violence of all ages,” McNew said. “We are available to provide medical-forensic services and referrals to victims.”
Forensic exams are always optional and never forced. Sometimes this means just listening to the patient in the moment. It could also mean helping with safety planning, follow-up care, and providing other community resources following a hospital visit.
“Only 34% of people who are injured by an intimate partner, seek medical care. It is important to be seen by a medical provider anytime you are injured,” McNew said. “If the violence has escalated to strangulation or “choking”, victims are 750% more likely to die at the hands of their abuser,” she said.
For victims of choking or strangulation, it is extremely important to receive medical care immediately, because there are a multitude of health issues that can occur, days, weeks or months after the incident.
“Even if you think you are fine or feel okay, there are serious medical issues that can arise, including death, if left untreated,” McNew said.
The forensic nurses can assist patients with filing a protective order while they are in the hospital or seeking health care at Meritus.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, medical care is highly encouraged regardless of the severity of the incident.
More information, including details on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and local resources, can be found at MeritusHealth.com/ForensicNursing.