In this "People Behind the Policies" blog, the manager of a domestic violence program talks about a patient’s struggle to survive and reveals how it relates to our goal to reduce violent crimes committed against women and children by 25 percent by the end of 2012.
"A Fight to Survive"
What started as an argument about money quickly became a fight for her life. Jenifer found herself being beaten, strangled repeatedly, slammed into the wall and floor, and knocked unconscious. Dazed, Jenifer and her teenage daughter Katie first went to the police station and then to Northwest Hospital’s ER-7. There, Jenifer was identified as a victim of domestic violence, and an advocate from the Domestic Violence (DOVE) Program was assigned to her. The DOVE advocate explained to her and Katie what domestic violence is. Katie recalls, "That sounds kind of obvious considering what just happened to my mother, but it truly helped. Abuse goes a lot further than just putting bruises on another’s body."
The police officer and DOVE advocate used a forensic light source to view underlying bruising resulting from the strangulation. They also took photographs of all her injuries. The Lethality Assessment Project – Maryland Model was used to determine that Jenifer was at high risk for being murdered. Therefore the advocate helped her and her daughter create an extensive safety plan. While still in the emergency room, the advocate let Jenifer know how to get a protective order and assisted her with the paperwork to get a temporary one. When Jenifer got a final protective order, the police confiscated her abuser’s gun, which turned out to be loaded. DOVE, the police and the legal system quite likely saved her life.
Over the next few months, DOVE coordinated with Jenifer, the police and the State’s Attorney’s Office to ensure Jenifer and her daughter were safe, and to make sure the abuser was held accountable. DOVE not only attended every court hearing, they also made certain that Jenifer had transportation. They made her aware of the new Rental Housing Protection law that allows victims to break their lease if they need to move for safety purposes. DOVE also helped Jenifer apply for Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation to pay for her medical bills.
"[DOVE] didn’t just throw us pamphlets and brochures and expect us to make a life decision," Katie says. "DOVE sat down and explained how to go about each process." Whenever Katie and her mother found their strength wavering, they’d pick up the phone and call DOVE.
While Jenifer and her daughter first went to the police, research suggests that victims of domestic violence show up in hospitals more frequently than at police stations, courts and shelters. Victims may come to the hospital for medical treatment of their injuries, thinking the assault was a one time occurrence, or saying it "only happens when he drinks." The hospital’s 24/7 setting provides a unique and ideal opportunity to intervene, educate and provide services to domestic violence victims. In addition to the services described, DOVE also offers immediate safe shelter, assistance with basic needs, group and individual counseling services, and more.
One year later, Jenifer is still healing from her injuries with surgeries and therapy. Katie is getting ready to go to college and wants to become an advocate for domestic violence victims. Katie says, "Talking to my mom, I have discovered that mothers often have a greater love for their children’s safety than their own." Katie says she feels grateful for and inspired by the DOVE program. "My mother and I have gone through difficult times, but it gives my mom great satisfaction to know that I’ve learned from our situation … I know now what I will and will not put up with in a relationship. I strive to have healthy relationships with my friends, my family and my boyfriend."
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