SITKA - October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and SEARHC has participated in awareness events in Sitka for several years. The annual Health Cares About Domestic Violence Day this year is Wednesday, Oct. 14. It is a national domestic violence awareness day, organized by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, designed to promote routine health screening for abuse.
Domestic violence is a health care problem of epidemic proportions in Alaska and throughout this country. There were more than 6,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Alaska in 2005. The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average. Although men can be victims of domestic violence, 73 percent of family violence victims are women. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
"Health care providers are in a unique position to help victims of domestic violence who seek routine or emergency care. Many victims who are murdered by their partners have seen their health care providers to treat previous injuries from abuse," said Nancy Jo Bleier, SEARHC Director of Social Services and the leader of SEARHC's Domestic Violence Task Force. "But too often, health care providers miss this opportunity to help a victim of domestic violence because they are not trained to screen patients for abuse. Simply by routinely screening patients for domestic violence and providing them with information and referrals, we can make an enormous difference for victims and their children - and in some cases we can save lives."
Many experts say that properly trained doctors and other health care providers are uniquely qualified to intervene to help victims. SEARHC now screens all patients for abuse, and SEARHC also provides information and referrals to local shelters for patients who need help finding safety or getting out of abusive relationships.
"Domestic violence is a health care issue, not just because of the immediate health consequences of abuse, but also because of its links to other life-threatening fatal health conditions," said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. "Health care providers routinely screen their patients for other potentially deadly but preventable conditions and habits, such as high blood pressure and cigarette smoking. But far too many health care providers do not ask their patients about abuse. There is no excuse for ignoring domestic violence in health care settings."
SEARHC has information cards available in racks at all of its facilities that list the names and toll-free contact numbers for four shelters in the region - Sitkans Against Family Violence or SAFV in Sitka (800-478-6511, www.safv.org/), Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies or AWARE in Juneau (800-478-1090, www.awareak.org/), Women In Safe Homes or WISH in Ketchikan (800-478-9474, www.ketchikanwish.org/) and Cordova Family Resource Center or CFRC in Cordova (866-790-4357). More information about domestic violence and how to prevent it can be found online at www.endabuse.org/ or http://www.andvsa.org/.