Her story sounded like something out of a Hollywood movie. I was gowned up in the trauma room of my Emergency Department, assisting in the resuscitation of our latest gunshot wound victim. Emergency Medical Services told us Jane Doe’s story: She and her boyfriend had gotten into a fight outside her car. He pulled a gun. She got into the car and sped away, towards the nearest police station. He chased behind her in his car and shot the whole way there. One bullet caught her in the arm.
Amid the flurry of activity in the room, as we checked for the extent of the damage, I looked in her eyes and saw she was scared. “You’re in the trauma room, and we’re looking to see how sick you are,” I told Jane. “You’re in good hands.” She nodded.
The bullet slice through Jane’s arm without anything beyond muscle damage. She was lucky.
After collecting her cut off clothes for evidence, and making sure she was stable, two police officers interviewed her. Minutes later, I heard her scream, “Nurse! Nurse!”
I rushed over. “What’s wrong, Jane?,” I asked.
“Get this man away from me,” she screamed, pointing at the officer. “I’m not going to tell you anything about him! He’s my forever!”
Nothing I said or the officers said could calm her down or change her mind. Despite narrowly avoiding a more serious injury or even death, Jane was determined to stay with the man who had just attempted to kill her.
Sadly, my experience with other patients like Jane Doe is not uncommon. Intimate partner violence – defined as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – is a widespread public health issue. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is rarely quite this dramatic or extreme, but it is precisely because IPV is rarely this dramatic or extreme that it goes unnoticed, ignored, or excused.
The CDC estimates approximately 1 in 6 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner in their lifetime while about 1/3 of women in the United States have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.
According to the CDC, there are three types of IPV; physical, sexual an phycological. IPV physical violence is defined as “intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm” and includes pushing, shoving, grabbing, biting, choking, hitting, punching, burning, use of a weapon, use of restraints or one’s body size or strength against the other person. IPV sexual violence is defined as “attempted, forced or alcohol/drug-facilitated unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal insertion,” unwanted sexual contact or experiences, and coerced sexual intimacy. IPV psychological aggression is defined as “use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally, and/or to exert control over another person” including name-calling, limiting access to transportation, family, or friends, humiliation, and mind games.
Reading over this list, doesn’t some of it sound like recent Hollywood movies? Fifty Shades of Grey featured the use of violence during sex scenes. Kristin Wigg’s character in Bridesmaids was chronically disrespected in her on-going romantic relationship in Jon Hamm’s character. Twilight‘s featured relationship had elements of social isolation and control, physiological aspects of IPV. Many romantic movies feature a degree of stalking defined by the CDC as “pattern of repeated, unwanted, attention and contact that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone else” including unwanted phone calls, cards, texts, emails, and gifts, which is a component of IPV.
Real-life IPV is not glamorous. It can lead to a variety of health problems, psychological consequences, and social issues. Healthy relationships are built on respect. Men and women who are in relationships with IPV stay because they think they are loved, but the reality is, their partner demonstrates little to no respect for them.
Weeks before Jane, I met Joan, another young woman who was shot by her boyfriend. She left him, sought help in a shelter, and was slowly rebuilding her life. She was back in the hospital when one of her wounds was infected. Thankfully, like that wound, she was slowly healing.
The majority of women (70.8%) and men (73.1%) who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner were victimized by one partner only. Though IPV in one relationship is one relationship too many, it is never too early or too late to demand a relationship built on respect instead of jealously.
Breiding, M. J., Chen, J., & Black, M. C. (2014). Intimate partner violence in the United States–2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time asking for help. I’ve somehow developed a subconscious personal policy to minimize how much I allow others to contribute to my daily needs. I guess I figure since I’m blessed enough to be able to stay home with my children,