SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Victims of domestic and sexual abuse often suffer silently. A Shreveport emergency room physician explains how hospitals can also serve as safe havens for those seeking a way out.
Jacquelyn Bowers, MD., the Director of Emergency Services for Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and an assistant professor in the Emergency Medicine Department, said there had been an uptick in the cases of domestic violence injury, sexual abuse, and even human trafficking.
According to Bowers, healthcare providers must recognize warning signs of physical and sexual trauma because the victims are reluctant to reach out and tell doctors or nurses, “Hey, I’m in need. Can you help me?”
Bowers said these patients are often in immediate danger, requiring the provider to recognize things that may not usually stand out when providing bedside care.
The signs of physical or sexual violence are usually easily spotted. However, the mental and emotional scars require deeper examination. Bowers said this makes the provider’s job as a patient advocate more essential.
“It could be their one opportunity. It could be a life-saving opportunity, and it’s certainly a life-altering opportunity and how we go about reaching out to these individuals as humans and not just the patient that comes in that needs something sewn up on their leg or needs an X-ray,” Bowers said. “We really have to look at them as a whole and what can we do for them safely to help them.”
Bowers said that in addition to advocating for the victim’s safety admission to the hospital could also provide short-term safety for patients experiencing abuse and trauma.
“We know the most dangerous time is when many, many of these individuals are trying to get away from the person that’s causing the abuse,” Bowers said. “And so we really need to let them know that the hospital is a safe place that we’re going to help them, that we’re going to facilitate them.
Bowers also said discretion is important because trust is necessary to help a patient. Oppositely a healthcare provider would not want to provide information to the person who has caused the victim’s pain.
“And so we really have a responsibility to educate ourselves about how the patients could present what we’re looking for and also to equip ourselves with the knowledge of what do we do next? And how can we become an advocate for this patient that probably has lost all ties to have anyone to support them?
Bowers wants victims of physical or sexual abuse to know they are valued by hospital staff, but help starts with the patient choosing to ask for help.
“If they choose, because all of this is elective. If you have a choice to do it, there are so many resources that can be provided for you that you may not otherwise be aware of. And we would be very happy to provide that to empower you to make a change. And to just talk about it,” Bowers said. “You do not have to have a medical need to come in seeking safe haven. You can come to the hospital because you’re not safe and you need help to get out of a dangerous environment.”