Just imagine you are sitting in your doctor’s office waiting for the doctor and chatting with the medical assistant. Maybe it’s your yearly physical or maybe this is your first visit and you just want antibiotics for a relentless chest cold. All of a sudden she starts running through this list of questions:
- Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you?
- Within the last year, have you been hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
- Since you’ve been pregnant, have you been slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
I would probably answer “no” to all of these questions even if I was experiencing abuse. It is so alienating to boil down the complexities of any relationship to these questions. And besides after I answer these questions, what happens? Where does this information go? Will you look at me differently? Judge me and my partner? Do you have any help to offer if I take a risk and tell you anything?
Current healthcare research shows that both finding the right way to ask and connecting a patient to resources is the two-step golden ticket for effective support.
Offering support starts with showing you have some idea about what living in a coercive and abusive relationship might feel like. Futures Without Violence offers a Safety Card with these questions:
Ask yourself: Are you in a healthy relationship?
- Is my partner willing to communicate openly when there are problems?
- Does my partner give me space to spend time with other people?
- Is my partner kind and supportive?
If you answered YES to these questions, it is likely that you are in a healthy relationship. Studies show that this kind of relationship leads to better physical and mental health, longer life, and better outcomes for your children.
Ask yourself: Are you in an unhealthy relationship?
- Does my partner shame me or humiliate me in front of others or in private?
- Does my partner control where I go, who I talk to, and how I spend money?
- Has my partner hurt or threatened me, or forced me to have sex?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, your health and safety may be in danger.
Their information also includes national hotline resources and where to get advocacy services.
I may still hesitate to answer these questions, but I know that the person in front of me is ready to have a deeper conversation and has some resources. Screening for, asking about, or listening for abuse in a relationship is not an end in itself. Providing support and connection is what survivors tell us they want.
If healthcare professionals really want to help, they have to take the time to learn the right questions and get comfortable connecting their patients to advocacy services. Consider helping by taking a stack of Safety Cards (they’re free) to your next doctor’s appointment.