There are many challenges in providing necessary services to individuals affected by domestic violence (DV). For health care providers, one of the most difficult is simply identifying which patients are experiencing DV. While many clinics and providers ask about DV, patients can be hesitant or afraid to speak out about their circumstances, and many providers simply are not trained to spot the subtle signs of DV.
The Center for Community Solutions (CCS) in San Diego is partnering with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest to help providers more effectively help patients. Through this partnership, CCS helped to develop a one-hour training workshop for all healthcare staff at Planned Parenthood health care centers in San Diego County designed to help them understand and recognize signs of DV when a patient does not directly disclose it. After the initial round of training, Planned Parenthood adapted the workshop into a 20 minute interactive e-learning tool required for all new hire training. While asking about DV is already part of the screening process at Planned Parenthood, the new training emphasizes recognition of subtle, non-verbal signs, such as patients shifting in their seats, not making eye contact, or hesitating when asked about domestic violence.
“People who have been the victim of domestic violence and sexual assault need a softer touch when our staff members try to get the information they need,” said Chrissy Cmorik, education outreach program manager at Planned Parenthood.
The workshop also trains staff in responding with empathy should they identify undisclosed instances of DV, with the goal of helping patients feel comfortable discussing their experiences. Should a patient disclose domestic violence, this training aims to leave providers prepared to compassionately discuss the situation without leaving the patient feeling blamed, shamed, or pressured into making a decision about getting help on the spot.
CCS’ grant also funds a domestic violence survivor advocate for Planned Parenthood health centers in San Diego County. Health care staff can enlist the DV advocate to help patients navigate the complex legal, health care, and social service challenges involved in getting the help they need.
With the addition of the DV advocate, Cmorik says, “Now we are able to offer victims of domestic violence and sexual assault the help they need, rather than just handing them a telephone number.”