Domestic Valor

Advice for Clergy, Police, Doctors and Family

For Doctors

My father was a GP and I grew up working in his family practice. He was the first person to inform me that there were a lot of women who beat their husbands, the men were just too embarrassed to ask for help.

In my case, the doctors I saw after being injured by my husband were so utterly and genuinely distressed at their lack of ability to help me I was never examined. This is a mistake. If a victim comes in after being assaulted by a family member, it is very important you give them an examination and treat this person with kindness.

I know some doctors are afraid victims may be lying about their injuries to get custody of their kids and feel scared about what they should do. It isn’t always possible from looking at a persons injuries to know how an injury was received or how the violence started. The victim may not remember clearly themselves.

DV perpetrators tend to be experts at provoking their partner and so there is even a good chance that the victim ‘threw the first punch.’

If you look at the statistics however, it is much more likely the perpetrator is going to hurt the victim physically than the victim hurt the perpetrator. There is a difference at a person lashing out weakly in frustration and despair, than a kick or punch that will leave a person hurt.

In the end it is not your role to decide if the victim is telling the truth or who started the fight. You do, however, need to accurately document any injuries, with a camera if possible, and make sure there aren’t deeper injuries.

Helping introduce this victim to police and community services officials who are educated in these matters will be of enormous help. Marriage counselling should not be recommended in these cases. You can recommend support counselling for the victim’s anxiety, unresolved emotions around this, etc., but it is vital that you encourage the victim to contact the police. If you can take the time to meet with the head of DV with your local police, this is best. Discuss these ideas and see if you can find someone who will support victims that you refer to them and defend their right to live and feel safe in their homes without being made to feel that it is their responsibility to leave. If you can direct the victim who to talk to, and reassure them that this support personnel will not pressure him or her to leave, the victim will be more likely to contact them.

You are in the unique position to educate the victim about the cycle of violence and warn of the physical danger he or she is in and that things will not get better without some form of intervention. You may be legally obliged to report this incident to the police yourself and this is probably a good idea. Having taken the time to find someone you respect who you know in the police force (that is well educated on these matters), will obviously help. Introduce the victim on the phone to this person by name and/or tell the victim to say that you are his or her doctor when s/he goes to see them. It is very important you respect the victim and treat him or her as a valuable community member that you do not mind introducing to others. DV thrives when its victims are socially shunned.

If you are her partner’s doctor, you may gain some ideas from my advice for ministers and clergy on how you can help him or her, or anyone who admits to you they have a problem dealing with their anger.