UH Med Now
JABSOM Domestic Violence Awareness panel shares integrated approach on supporting domestic violence survivors
As the finale to October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Domestic Violence Awareness Center (DVAwC) student interest group at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) hosted a virtual panel to help attendees document situations of domestic violence.
The panel, “An Integrated Approach to Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence,” featured speakers Ella Mojica and Tanya Phillip from the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) as well as Kaiser Permanente physicians Drs. Jamie Ford and Alexandra Sueda, who treat domestic violence survivors. Each speaker discussed practical ways on how an individual can identify and document cases of domestic violence should the occasion arise.
“Validating that you’re hearing their message and that no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship is important,” said Dr. Ford, an emergency physician. He proceeded to show what individuals can look for in people who have suffered from domestic violence – unusual injuries such as burns, bilateral injuries and bite marks.
In Hawaiʻi, domestic violence can only be reported with the consent of the victim. Mandatory reporting can only occur if there’s a significant injury with a weapon.
Dr. Ford noted that it’s vital for clinical professionals to approach patients in a broad manner rather than going into specifics head-on, as well as to leave out personal biases, discomfort or lack of knowledge or time out of the prognosis.
“It’s important for the clinician to have an open mind,” Ford said. “It’s because this is a difficult thing to discuss and you might not ever get a truthful answer out of the patient because it just might not be at the point at which they’re ready to discuss what’s happening.”
Dr. Sueda, an OB/GYN, added her experiences in making the patient experience more comfortable for survivors, especially for women.
“It’s essential in being able to create a safe space for someone to ask for help or disclose or even get information that is not visible to their partner or to their family members,” Sueda said. “I would encourage all of you [who are] going out in practice to see if you can find a private moment alone with your patient. We wanna find that balance between having that private moment and then making family members feel welcome as part of the medical care. Sometimes they absolutely do [want their family members or partners to be there]; sometimes people are like, ‘No, they can stay in the waiting room.’ It lets the patient be patient-centered and patient-directed.”
Since clinicians may not always have the expertise needed to treat these patients, they work in tandem with DVAC and social workers to provide additional treatment and support for the patient.
While the resources are available, there is a mistrust of the system that abusers take to their advantage.
“[Survivors] are fearful that if they disclose something to their doctor, the doctor may call child welfare services and their children might get taken away. So isolation is a big tactic that abusers use to keep their victim or their power and control. Often the people that we come into contact with, they don’t have outside support. For right now, a DVAC is necessary because however they find us, they begin to find support so we can educate them to say, ‘This doctor is domestic violence aware, so she’ll understand, sheʻll listen,’ because theyʻre always afraid or more often than not,” said Mojica.
Phillip added that transparency for survivors is crucial for them receiving the support they need.
“In a way, it can be empowering,” she said. “It’s a big piece of putting that power of who knows their story back into their hands. It does set up that conversation and that relationship to be trustworthy. In terms of what needs to be written down and documented, being transparent is important also can let somebody know that you are willing to share that with them so that they can choose what they share.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please feel free to contact:
OAHU HELPLINE: (808) 531-3771
*If the situation is an emergency, please call 911.
You can watch the full panel here:
Vina Cristobal, JABSOM Communications Coordinator