NewFNP regularly screens her patients for intimate partner violence (IPV). It's just one question, usually either "Do you feel safe at home?" or the not so nuanced "Does your partner abuse you?" It is a hard question to ask, but it becomes less hard the more you ask it and more hard when the answer is yes.
Friday, December 12, 2008
When the answer is yes and you work in a super ridiculous community health center, your day will be sub-par but likely nowhere near as crappy a day as the days leading up to a patient's disclosure that the are abused by their partner.
NewFNP's responses have been varied - she has sat with a patient while the patient called a local hotline, she has referred a patient to our fledgling medical-legal partnership, she has called the police.
But yesterday, a patient for whom the answer has been 'no' came in and disclosed that, all this time, the answer has in fact been 'yes.' At some point, this woman had the wherewithal to obtain a restraining order. This may have been when the abuse extended beyond her and to her oldest child.
Like many women, she wanted her partner to change. She wanted the abuse to stop, but she didn't necessarily want the entire relationship to stop. Like many women, she was afraid of losing her children - a fear heightened by her partner telling her that this was, in fact, what would happen and by her complete detachment from the legal system.
In some ways, this was an easy decision. Children are at risk, he violated a restraining order. NewFNP dialed the police. Unfortunately, he had left the house by the time they arrived.
When newFNP was in public health school, she visited a women's prison as a part of a class on family and sexual violence. It was a life-changing experience. In that group of women - convicted murderers - there were PTA moms and biker ladies. There was a woman who killed the man who got her daughter strung out on drugs and abused her. There was the woman who, after a brutal beating, killed her husband while he slept because he had been threatening to kill her and she knew that he wasn't kidding. Mostly these women were serving life sentences.
There are more aspects to this crime - on the batterer's side and the abused partner's side - than newFNP knows. Issues of power, of fear, of control, of rage, of money and poverty, of fucked up childhoods, of desperation, of gender inequality, of protecting what is valuable to you.
But these women shouldn't be locked away for life and newFNP's patient should never be in a position so desperate that homicide seems the only solution.
So ask. Just ask. As a provider, you might not have all the answers, but you are sure as hell equipped to find them out for a patient who might be caught between the bat and the belt. Or the gun.