Is someone you love hitting you? Hurting you? Threatening you? Putting you down?
It is a crime for anyone to hit or hurt you. Domestic violence can occur between people who are married, separated, dating, have dated in the past or are living together. If not stopped, the violence tends to get worse and happen more often.
That’s the message the Alameda-Contra Costa Public Health Coalition, a group of physicians and advocates working to prevent domestic violence, brought to a Thursday press conference at the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association on Claremont Avenue.
New efforts to work with physicians and police are making a difference, according to East Bay shelter providers. A Safe Place in Oakland was one of the lead agencies that began outreach five years ago when the Alameda County Medical Response Project received a two-year grant.
A Safe Place executive director Carolyn Russell said they went into hospitals and helped set up protocols for reporting and screening. “It has seriously increased the number of referrals we get,” Russell said, adding that help from hospitals and police departments is key to reaching battered women.
“We’re working with medical facilities and law enforcement agencies because those are the institutions that victims tend to go to,” Russell said. “Most battered women do not come seeking shelter. They come seeking treatment.”
Since 1996, Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley has screened emergency room patients for both physical and verbal abuse, according to Brenda Tiernan, a nurse at the hospital.
“We have a protocol,” Tiernan said. “We do screening and ask certain questions.”
Although physicians in California have been required to report incidents of domestic violence since it was mandated by the Attorney General in 1995, public health officials say many physicians still lack training to identify abuse.
Many physicians don’t address the issue simply because they don’t know what to do and feel uncomfortable handling the situation, said Dr. Laurie Droughan, an internist at Mt. Diablo Hospital in Concord.
The aim of the press briefing was to introduce a new tool kit to help physicians work with victims of domestic violence. The kit includes referrals to shelters and support networks and will be distributed to 2,200 physicians and 25 hospitals in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“Law enforcement agencies and medical personnel are first line for these people,” said Droughan, herself a survivor of domestic violence. “If you don’t ask the right questions as a physician, you will never even know.”
Many physicians tell Droughan they don’t see victims of domestic violence in their practices. But Droughan disputes this claim.
“I can say to them, ‘Yes, you have seen these women, you just haven’t identified them,’” she said.
The first initiative of the Alameda-Contra Costa Public Health Coalition, the tool kit includes educational posters to be placed in examination rooms, small resource sheets that can be discreetly given to victims, a screening guide for medical personnel, and a 16-page Domestic Violence Resource Guide.
In 1999, more than 14,000 domestic violence related phone calls were made to East Bay law enforcement agencies, said coalition president Dr. Sharon Drager, citing reports from the California Department of Justice.
“There is much anxiety on the part of both patients and caregivers to discuss the issue of domestic violence. But it is a public health concern that cannot be ignored,” said Drager.