Women Vets and Violence
Every nine seconds a woman is battered in the United States, according to the American Medical Association.
“That’s a staggering number,” said Paula Boothe, a social worker at the VA Medical Center in Beckley, W.Va. “Most people aren’t aware of how big a problem this really is.”
Boothe runs the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program at Beckley — a program that sprang into existence less than a year ago.
“We felt there was a real need for something like this,” Boothe said. “Intimate partner violence is a serious problem throughout the country, but here in West Virginia it’s particularly bad. We rank 13th in the Nation for domestic homicide and suicide events. That’s depressing. It’s also unnecessary, because there’s something we can do about it.”
Boothe said emergency room personnel at the Beckley VA are now attempting to screen all their female patients for signs of domestic violence.
“Here at the VA we want to treat the whole person,” she said. “So if you come into our emergency room with a broken nose or a black eye, we’re going to treat you. But we’re also going to bring up the subject of domestic violence with you. If you’re in a bad situation at home, we want you to know we’re here to help, that you don’t have to keep on enduring what you’re enduring.”
“You have to believe that you’re strong enough to leave.”
Boothe noted that an abusive relationship can be the root cause of numerous other health issues for a woman, not just broken bones or a swollen lip.
“A woman who’s being routinely abused, physically or verbally, is in a state of constant anxiety and stress,” she explained. “She might develop high blood pressure, or a stomach ulcer. She might develop mental health problems. She’s a candidate for all kinds of trouble.”
So, if you tell someone at the Beckley VA that you’re in a physically abusive relationship, what happens next?
“We’ll hook you up with a social worker here,” Boothe explained. “Someone you can talk to, someone you can trust, someone who can explain your options to you. And there are always options.”
She added: “If you tell us you feel like you’re in imminent danger, that you don’t want to go home again, we’ll find a place for you to stay. There are several local and state organizations we partner with in the area, including the Women’s Resource Center here in Beckley and the Family Refuge Center over in Lewisburg. These folks provide food, shelter, clothing, employment assistance and a bunch of other services for abused women who are trying to start their lives over.”
She continued: “Women need to know there’s all kinds of help just a phone call away. Just pick up the phone, or walk into a VA hospital, clinic or Vet Center and ask for help. Because you’re not alone. You may feel like you’re alone, but you’re not.”
Over 40 percent of victims of severe physical violence are men. - CDC
Boothe, a victim of domestic violence herself, said a lot of people can’t comprehend how an abused woman can opt to stay trapped in a relationship with a violent partner.
“People will ask you, ‘How do you put up with that? Why don’t you just leave?’” she observed. “Sadly, there are lots of reasons a woman sticks around, even though she’s being beaten. One big reason is fear. You’re afraid that if you leave, he’ll get even angrier than he already is; that he’ll find you and kill you. I sort of felt like that when I was in this situation. I said to myself, ‘He’s going to kill me if I leave.’ Then one day I realized he was going to kill me if I stayed.”
Women will also remain in an abusive relationship because they feel they have no place else to go, according to Boothe.
“They’re isolated,” she explained. “Their self-esteem has been battered into the ground. They have no job, no money of their own. They’re afraid that if they leave they’ll be homeless. A lot of them don’t leave because they feel like they’ll lose their kids. There are a ton of reasons a woman will stay in a very bad situation and just try to ride things out, day by day. Fear, hopelessness and despair can immobilize you.”
Boothe said it’s her job to assure a woman that she is stronger than she realizes, that somewhere inside her she has the courage to start over.
“We can’t make you leave someone who’s abusing you,” she said. “You have to want to leave. You have to want to save yourself. We can give you support and encouragement, but you’re the one who has to make the decision to take back your life.”
Boothe said that, on average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship and then return to it about seven times before finally leaving for good.
“A big life change like this often doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “Sometimes it does, but usually it’s more of a process. We just want you to know that when you’re ready to make that change, we’ll be here for you. We want you to know you deserve a better life.”
To learn more about Intimate Partner Violence and where to turn for help, visit www.womenshealth.va.gov/WOMENSHEALTH/outreachmaterials/abuseandviolence/intimatepartnerviolence.asp or VA’s National Center for PTSD at www.ptsd.va.gov/public/types/violence/domestic-violence.asp