Franklin Countys First News

Safe Voices: Domestic abuse is a public health issue

FARMINGTON - Domestic abuse is often thought of or spoken about as a private matter, something deeply personal to a survivor. While this is true, it is also true that domestic abuse is one of the most pervasive public health issues in rural Maine – affecting people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or economic background. Franklin County has a higher rate of reported domestic violence assault than the state average, and internal statistics captured by Safe Voices, the local domestic violence resource center in Franklin County, back this up – our Farmington office is our second busiest location, serving 220 unduplicated clients in our last fiscal year, behind only our Lewiston based administrative office for number of survivors served.

These statistics don’t even take into account those who experience abuse at the hands of an intimate partner and never report to law enforcement or a domestic violence advocate. With national data suggesting that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be physically and/or sexually assaulted by a partner in their lifetime, we know that there are many who never report or reach out for help. Changing attitudes and eliminating barriers to reporting and accessing services are key to decreasing rates of abuse and increasing survivor access to support. One significant relationship stands out as a means for those living with abuse to find help – their relationship with their healthcare providers. Statistics show that while only about 10% of physicians in the US routinely screen patients for signs of domestic abuse, around 37% of abuse victims reported talking to their healthcare provider about what they were experiencing. This discrepancy is concerning, and clearly shows that more people would like to discuss domestic violence as a health issue than are able to at present.

A medical appointment or counseling session might be the only time a person has any privacy away from their abuser – and if a healthcare provider is vigilant and on the lookout for the warning signs of abuse, that appointment might be the perfect time to have an open discussion about abuse and possible resources. Abuse survivors might also simply have more frequent contact with their medical provider than other community resources – per the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, we know that statistically women who are being abused by a partner are twice as likely to develop depression, or alcohol use disorder; and domestic abuse has been linked to the development of such chronic health conditions as arthritis, chronic neck and/or back pain, migraines, sexually transmitted infections and chronic pelvic pain, and stomach ulcers.

In recognition of this connection between public health and domestic violence, and the important role healthcare providers play in connecting survivors to local resources, Safe Voices is piloting a new referral program, open to all healthcare providers in Franklin County. The “PHAIR” program, standing for “Public Health Advocate Initiated Response,” will offer providers an easier route to referring patients to Safe Voices services. Safe Voices Farmington Court Advocate, Kayla Johnson, has this to say about the benefits such a referral process has for survivors: “Enhancing access to an advocate from this early stage will provide survivors with the tools and options they need to make informed decisions regarding their safety. Survivors will be able to work with an advocate in a safe and secure environment to develop a safety plan and receive information about resources that will help them move forward.”
If you are a healthcare provider and are interested in using the PHAIR referral to increase patient safety and access to resources, you can contact Hillary Hooke at hhooke@safevoices.org or by calling 778-6297. To become a participating provider, you must complete a brief training provided at no cost by Safe Voices staff.

If you or someone you know if experiencing domestic abuse, and is looking for help, you can contact a Safe Voices advocate 24/7 through our helpline: 1-800-559-2927. To speak with a local Franklin County advocate during regular business hours, please call 207-778-6107.

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