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Department of Health: Domestic Violence is a Public Health Issue, Screening Should be Part of Preventive Care

10/19/2020

Harrisburg, PA - Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today reminded Pennsylvanians that domestic violence is a public health issue that leaves long-term effects on thousands of families across our commonwealth and screening for domestic violence should be a part of everyone’s preventive health care.

According to fatality research by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), there were 112 victims in 2019 and over 1,600 victims in the last decade who became domestic violence homicide victims from preventable and reportable violence within their household leaving families without a mother, father or other household members.

“It is important to recognize the relationship between violence from a partner and an individual’s overall health and well-being as a public health issue as it disrupts households across the state each year,” Dr. Levine said. “The Wolf Administration is committed to protecting Pennsylvania’s vulnerable populations at all times, including those survivors who are affected by domestic violence. Those who are survivors of abuse seek medical attention of some kind, even if they do not report the abuse to police, and others may have long-term battles both physically and mentally. Survivors, please know we are here for you and there are resources available.”

PCADV describes domestic violence as a pattern of coercive behavior used by one person to gain power and control over another in an intimate or familial relationship. Violence and abuse happen to anyone regardless of gender identity or expression. This violence could occur through emotional abuse, physical violence, financial abuse, verbal abuse, stalking and sexual violence.

Victims and survivors may not only have issues with their physical health, but also the trauma caused by these experiences can leave long-lasting impacts to their overall well-being. In addition to the immediate trauma caused by abuse, domestic violence contributes to a number of chronic health problems, including depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and often limits the ability of survivors to properly support their health needs or manage other chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), in line with the U.S. United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Institute of Medicine (IOM), recommends that intimate partner or domestic violence screening and counseling should be a core part of women's preventive health visits.

The department encourages all physicians and health care professionals to screen for the following signs to show if an individual may be experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault:

  • Appears worried or anxious about making their partner angry
  • Makes excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Has unexplained marks or injuries
  • Experiences changes in behavior, may have depression or anxiety
  • Has a partner that puts them down in front of others, limits their time with friends or family and/or is extremely jealous or possessive

Due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, some victims and survivors are spending more time in close proximity with their abusers, increasing the risk to their safety and well-being during an already stressful time. If you or someone you know is unsafe, resources are available. The following are resources for those experiencing or witnessing domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse:

  • To find the local domestic violence program providing 24/7, free and confidential services in your area, use PCADV’s find help page.
  • For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) provides sexual assault crisis services. Those resources can be found at www.pcar.org or at 1-888-772-7227 for a 24-hour hotline to be connected to a local sexual assault center.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides educational materials and information on sexual harassment, abuse, and assault at www.nsvrc.org.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), organizes the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. This hotline is a referral service that can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can call the Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or access RAINN’s online chat service.
  • Suspected child abuse or neglect can be reported 24/7 to Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ ChildLine available at 1-800-932-0313.
  • If you witness or hear a violent incident, do not intervene on your own, as this can result in you being injured. Call 911 immediately.

MEDIA CONTACT: Nate Wardle - ra-dhpressoffice@pa.gov

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