- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Some women come to the emergency room month after month. They might say they fell down the stairs. Others are more vague — stomach pain is a popular complaint, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital staff said Monday morning.
Now, hospital workers are being trained to pinpoint physical and behavioral signs that could identify victims of domestic violence, even if — for whatever reason — the patient declines to say they’re being abused.
Recently, MedStar St. Mary’s hosted a training session, for its workers and members of the community, focusing on domestic violence awareness. On Friday, the hospital will continue the training, this time to heighten awareness about strangulation, or choking, of victims. The event, scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is free and open to the public. Call 301-475-6020 to register.
This next workshop is being offered just days after Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) announced that about $40,000 in state funds would go to MedStar St. Mary’s to fund a part-time domestic violence coordinator position, intended to help link victims to law enforcement support, counseling and housing services. Similar work has been done at the hospital in the past, but now, a person can be officially dedicated to the role.
Brown was at MedStar St. Mary’s on Monday for a brief ceremony to announce the funding. Yvonne Dawkins, an emergency room nurse and sexual assault services coordinator for MedStar St. Mary’s, started in the domestic violence resources coordinator position last week.
“No family, no community is immune from the threat of domestic violence,” Brown said.
In 2006, there were 21,965 domestic violence crimes reported in Maryland, according to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. By 2012, that number dropped to 17,615.
MedStar St. Mary’s reported that during triage screenings in 2011, 238 women said “yes” when asked if they had been victims of domestic violence. In 2012, that number was 243, and last year, 267. And there are many more victims who never seek hospital treatment.
Similar tragedy, Brown said, has touched his family. He talked about his cousin, Cathy Brown, 40, who was shot and killed by an estranged boyfriend five years ago. She was an elementary school teacher on the National Cathedral campus in Washington, D.C.
Brown also mentioned domestic violence prevention bills making their way through the state legislature. One bill, the Peace and Protective Orders - Burden of Proof (HB 307) is designed to make it easier for Marylanders to get protective orders against their abusers — something Brown said his cousin had tried, unsuccessfully, to do.
In a statement, he said the legislation could end Maryland’s “dubious distinction as the only state that requires victims to meet a higher standard of clear and convincing evidence” for a peace and protective orders. Another bill, HB 309, would add second-degree assault to the list of crimes for which a person could get a permanent, final protective order. Both have been approved by the House and Senate, and await the governor’s approval.
In the meantime, Brown said, it’s important to reach out to advocates. They’re “working on this day in and day out.”
Representatives from Walden, Three Oaks Center and the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office were present Monday, along with hospital leadership, and members of a county task force to prevent domestic violence. The organizations work together to provide counseling, housing and legal assistance to victims.
It’s key to get assistance to victims while they’re at the emergency room, before the abuser has a chance to bring flowers and smooth things over, prevention advocates said. Once victims come into the emergency room, they’re assessed, treated, and hospital staff may then call police and Walden counselors.
The new training, and the addition of a dedicated domestic violence prevention coordinator, will just add a needed layer of support, advocates said.
“This is adding a much stronger connection between the hospital and the rest of us,” said Three Oaks Executive Director Lanny Lancaster, who works to provide housing for the homeless, including victims of domestic violence and their children. Often, he said, “people start getting services in the ER.”