Opinion: Let’s Take Action Against Intimate Partner Violence
Published Sarasota Herald-Tribune November 24, 2021. Read it here.
Today many women have seen the question on an intake form at a doctor’s office. Or perhaps they have been asked the question directly by a health care provider.
“Do you feel safe at home?”
Asking this question is understandable and even admirable. It is important to offer a safe environment for women to disclose violence and, one hopes, be offered appropriate support. But this will not make the long-term changes we need to end violence against women. To do that, we need to ask another question.
Intimate partner violence – physical, emotional or sexual aggression between people in a relationship – is rampant. One in three women globally experience intimate partner violence at some point during their lives. And while violence can be used by men or women, in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, the vast majority of those using violence are men and the vast majority of those experiencing it are women – across all lines of religion, geography, economic status, cultural upbringing and race.
The root causes of intimate partner violence are clear: an association of masculinity with power and control, cultural indoctrination encouraging women to be submissive, and economic and legal inequality. It is a legal, social, and economic issue, and tackling these causes requires a multi-pronged approach.
But intimate partner violence is also a health care issue. Those who experience it are at increased risks of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory problems – as well as depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide, and more. It is the No. 1 cause of injury for women ages 15 to 44.
And children who are exposed to it are at higher risk of behavioral, physical, and academic problems.
That’s why during routine health settings we need to start asking everyone this question:
“Do you use or experience violence at home?”
Here’s what that would do:
• It would signal to men that this is not a secret – that others are aware the problem exists.
• It would show that intimate partner violence is an issue of importance to the health care industry.
• It would open the door to providing men with options for treatment, counseling and other services.
• And finally – but equally important – it would begin to destigmatize talking about intimate partner violence, which is an essential step to dealing with it.
Why doesn’t this happen now?
Because we focus on the person who is experiencing violence – not the one who is causing it.
Because male-oriented health care and legal systems are loath to assign responsibility to men, preferring to keep this in the shadows as a private, “domestic” matter.
Because health care professionals are strapped for time and don’t want one more thing to deal with in a 12-minute time slot.
The list goes on. So instead we apply a Band-Aid to the problem. But we don’t heal the wounds.
This can change.
Health care protocols can require universal screenings that ask everyone whether they experience or use violence, Providers, often seen as authority figures in many societies, can be counseled on how to ask follow-up questions, learn about available resources and include relevant information on medical records.
And those in the health care industry can see how they are helping to bring about long-term change.
But there many other ways to help bring about change, too. For 15 years we at UN Women USA Gulf Coast have been holding an annual Walk against Violence to draw the conversation out of the shadows, suggest concrete changes and raise funds for global programs to address intimate partner violence.
For details, go to: www.unwomenusa.rallybound.org/virtual-walk.
Scott Osborne is a gender equity advocate and president of UN Women USA Gulf Coast in Sarasota.
Published November 24, 2021