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An Unlikely Hero in the Fight Against Domestic Abuse

October 30, 2015
The 77-year-old went to the emergency department at Greater Baltimore Medical Center after suffering a fall. But because GBMC routinely screens every patient for signs of domestic violence, nurses learned the woman had also been a victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her fiancée. The hospital helped her file a police report, a protective order was secured, and the woman ended the relationship.

This recent example is just one of many that illustrates how GBMC has been on the front line in combating domestic violence, as well as sexual assault.

“The services we provide at GBMC help us reach hundreds of victims and prevent countless injuries and even deaths annually,” said Colleen Moore, who coordinates GBMC’s Domestic Violence Program, part of the medical center’s long-standing Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Program.

SAFE is staffed by registered nurses who are trained and certified by the Maryland Board of Nursing to work with sexual assault victims age 13 and older in a compassionate and respectful manner. These patients are cared for in a private, secure suite separate from the hospital’s Emergency Department.

SAFE was established to address the unique concerns of assault victims who might otherwise have to endure long waits in busy emergency rooms with medical staff unfamiliar with administering rape kits. Under the program, expert forensic nurse examiners evaluate victims, collect evidence that can be vital in prosecuting a sexual assault, use the latest technology to document sexual and domestic violence injuries and provide emergency contraception and antibiotics if needed.

What’s more, the SAFE program provides outreach and educational programs about safe dating as well as recognizing and dealing with violence in a relationship. In the 2013-14 school year, SAFE made presentations to approximately 1,100 students in the Baltimore area. Among the lessons imparted: Roughly two-thirds of GBMC forensic exams are conducted on victims between 13 and 24 years old, alcohol was involved in nearly half of all those sexual assaults and more than 70% of the alleged assailants were known to the victim.

In 2011, GBMC established the Domestic Violence Program, which identifies victims and links them to shelters and other services in the community, provides information on the steps and resources in helping them secure legal protections, and puts them in touch with community advocates and counselors.

“We recognized that domestic violence victims, especially those in critical danger, show up perhaps more often in a hospital than they do anywhere else, including a shelter,” Moore said. “We had to respond and get patients connected to the broader services that are available in the community.”

The program doesn’t wait for victims to reach out to them. Virtually every patient who comes to the hospital – from people with diabetes suffering from insulin shock to those visiting the emergency department for treatment of a broken bone – are screened for signs of abuse. If the screening indicates possible abuse, crisis counselors are notified. Counselors are on call 24/7, available to meet with the patient in a confidential setting to assess the danger and discuss the options.

Since its inception, the Domestic Violence Program has provided crisis counseling and advocacy to about 700 abuse victims, recently averaging more than 20 referrals a month, but assisting as many as 38 in a month.

All services are free and confidential.

Moore noted that domestic violence comes in many forms, including physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse and economic abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries to women from domestic violence each year.

“Beyond being a social issue or a matter to be settled in court, intimate partner violence is also a public health concern,” Moore said. “The CDC estimates that one in four women will be abused in her lifetime. We are very proud that GBMC takes abuse so seriously and has stepped up to be a leader in responding to this critical health issue.”

–David Ogul, Tribune Content Solutions
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