October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — an important time to increase awareness of this public health issue. Domestic violence or interpersonal violence (IPV) can have a profound impact on the health, safety, and well-being of women and men, children, and other family members. According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. IPV is also connected with chronic health issues, HIV/AIDS, and is made worse by other high-risk behavioral issues, including substance abuse and mental health issues. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community may also experience IPV in their relationships.
Identifying current or past abusive and traumatic experiences can help prevent further abuse, lessen disability, and lead to improved health status. Because health care providers are often trusted resources in their communities, they are in a unique position to connect individuals who experience IPV with supportive local services. It is critically important to take the time to ask whether patients feel safe in their relationships and to listen to what is said and recognize what is not said, as well as watch the person's reaction to this question. Providing patients with information, resources, and referrals to community-based organizations for further assistance, if needed, can make a difference.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans now cover screening and brief counseling for domestic and IPV for women. The health care law also requires most plans to cover screening and counseling for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections at no additional cost. Learn what other services are covered under the HRSA women's preventive services guidelines. Additional women's preventive services are available at no additional cost, as well as preventive services for all adults.
There are also resources you can share with your patients to help prevent violence before it happens. For example, Circle of 6 is a free mobile app that makes it easy for a woman to reach six friends if she is in a situation that makes her uncomfortable or if she needs help.
Remind women that no one has the right to hurt them or make them feel afraid. If you suspect that one of your patients feels unsafe, let them know they can call the National Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD) to talk to someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the call is free and confidential. Your patients can also chat with a trained advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.