A simple question can save lives


By Ashley Wilson
Rise Above Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Rise Above Violence will be sharing the enormous cost of domestic violence on our community, on our health care system, the cost for survivors, the cost on our children and the cost to our community.

On Oct. 14, Rise is partnering with local health care offices — Pagosa Medical Group, Pagosa Springs Medical Center, Axis Integrated Health Care, Alpine Medical Specialty Practices and others — to recognize health cares about Domestic Violence Day. Rise has partnered with our community providers to share information in their lobbies and exam rooms that will help local victims access the help they need. 

In health care systems, a simple question can save lives; it merely involves our health care providers taking the time to ask their female patients critical questions such as “Do you feel safe at home?” and others that can give victims the opportunity to reach out for help.

Screening patients for domestic violence can be as simple as those six words, but around this country and in our state, too few health care providers routinely screen their patients for abuse. That needs to change. Experience and research have taught us that properly trained doctors and nurses are uniquely qualified to help victims who seek medical treatment for both routine and emergency care. Yet, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999 found that less than 10 percent of primary care physicians routinely screen patients for partner abuse during regular office visits.

Domestic violence is a health care problem of epidemic proportions in our country, our state and our community. Nationally, nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In our community, Rise serves at least 350 victims per year. In 2020 through the health crisis, those numbers exceeded 400. These numbers are startling. Just as startling are the wasted opportunities. Each time a health care provider fails to ask a patient about domestic violence, he or she could be missing a critical chance to help a victim of abuse. 

Many victims who are murdered by their partners have seen their health care providers to treat previous injuries from abuse. Simply by routinely screening patients for domestic violence and providing them with information and referrals, together we can make an enormous difference for battered partner and their children — and in some cases, health care providers can save lives.

The direct health effects of domestic violence are devastating. Half of all female victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) report an injury of some type and about 20 percent of them seek medical assistance. The immediate health consequences of IPV can be severe and sometimes fatal. In addition, new research also links a history of victimization to long-term chronic and behavioral health risks.

The cost of domestic violence on health care is heavy. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “Data about nonfatal IPV victimizations and resulting health care service use were collected through the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), funded by the National Institute of Justice and CDC. Based on NVAWS data, an estimated 5.3 million IPV victimizations occur among U.S. women ages 18 and older each year. This violence results in nearly 2.0 million injuries, more than 550,000 of which require medical attention. 

“In addition, IPV victims also lose a total of nearly 8.0 million days of paid work — the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs — and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of the violence. The costs of intimate partner rape, physical assault and stalking exceed $5.8 billion each year, nearly $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health care services. The total costs of IPV also include nearly $0.9 billion in lost productivity from paid work and household chores for victims of nonfatal IPV and $0.9 billion in lifetime earnings lost by victims of IPV homicide. The largest proportion of the costs is derived from physical assault victimization because that type of IPV is the most prevalent. The largest component of IPV-related costs is health care, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the total costs.”

Research has found that domestic violence is connected to eight of the 10 leading health indicators selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to measure the health and well-being of Americans — including access to health care, responsible sexual behavior and substance abuse. The health indicators are part of Healthy People 2010, a prevention agenda for the nation designed to identify the most significant preventable threats to health in the United States.

Although health care providers routinely screen women for 15 other potentially deadly but preventable conditions and habits like high blood pressure and cigarette smoking, too often they do not ask their patients about abuse, which may be more likely to affect their health and endanger their lives. This needs to change. There is no excuse for ignoring domestic violence in health care settings.

Health care providers have the opportunity to help the many hidden victims of domestic violence in our community. Rise works in conjunction with our health care providers to ensure they are properly trained on how to screen patients, identify abuse and provide referrals.

The good news is that domestic violence is a problem we can solve — and health care providers can play an essential role in that critical effort. We are committed to doing our part to end abuse and we are thankful that health care providers in our community are joining us in screening patients for domestic violence during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and throughout the year.

Join us in activities this month that show survivors they are supported: 

1) Follow Rise on Facebook and Instagram and share posts — your post may be the one thing a victim sees.

2) Donate to the WeRISE for 25 campaign that will set up a flexible spending fund Rise can use to help victims with simple needs that help to stabilize them. For more information, visit: www.riseaboveviolence.org.

3) Attend Coffee Talk on Oct. 21 at the Tennyson Building Event Center at 9 a.m.

4) Wear purple on Oct. 21 for Wear Purple Day.

Rise is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides 24-hour support and advocacy services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault or other forms of violence, serving more than 350 victims each year. Rise also works to eliminate violence through education for youth and our community. All programs and services are free and confidential, including emergency prevention education and empowerment programs. Visit www.riseaboveviolence.org for more information or call (970) 264-9075 to talk to an advocate today.