Domestic Abuse Assessment

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    I was so young when I got married the first time. At 19, I had no idea what I was getting into. Marrying a man 12 year my senior with a history of domestic assault; why would I ever think it wouldn't happen to me? Let me tell you how wrong I was and what I am going to do to help women like me. And how desperately I need your help now.

    I was all of 18 when I met my first husband. It was three days after 9/11 and my stepmother had just kicked me out of the house. I had no place to go. I went out with a girlfriend and met this charming, leather-clad man at the bar. I ended up drinking way too much and slept on his couch for three days while he convinced me how truly precious I was and how he just knew I was the one woman who could make him a better man.

    He was very honest about how his first wife had had him jailed several times for domestic assault but he would never do something like that to me. She was evil, psychotic; she drove him to extremes of anger. I was a beautiful, sweet young girl and exactly what this 30-year-old man needed to be a true-life prince in shining armor. Of course, I should move in with him; my family was horrible, they did not love me as he could. No one would ever love me as he did. "Don't worry; I will take care of you now."

    He was charming and darling for about a year. Until every member of my family had given up on seeing me again, hated me for "abandoning" them, and I had no friends left. Oh, he would yell at me, maybe cuff the back of my head; slap my face occasionally. However, I was young and did not know anything. I was always doing something wrong and he had to teach me. How else was I going to learn?

    I married him. Why wouldn't I? I wanted a baby. I was not about to have another child out of wedlock (my first child died at birth when I was 15). I was going to do it right this time. I was going to do right by God so He would let me keep a baby. I wanted dozens of babies, in fact, but was willing to settle for four, maybe six.

    He began beating me for no reason. He was mad I knew that John Hancock was the first president of the US, just not voted in as one. He beat me with a cell phone power cord for that. Taught me not to win at Trivial Pursuit. There were days when I could not go to work I was beaten so badly. Leave him, you say? Sure. With what money? He took my paychecks. If I tried hiding some in the tampon box, he would beat me. Where would I go? I had no family left. He had made me move hours away from my family and they all hated me for abandoning them, remember? Stay in a shelter? Sure. Let me go stay in the one safe house in the area; the one he would drive me by every time we went to town and point out to me as being the place "those women go to hide from their husbands when they get tired of being real women." Go to the hospital? I did. Listen up. NOT ONE NURSE OR DOCTOR EVER ASKED ME IF I WAS BEING ABUSED. NOT ONE. Call the police? Oh, please, don't make me laugh at the good ole' boy society you find in rural Iowa.

    Eventually, I got pregnant. A little boy. Oh, I cannot explain the absolute joy... I wanted to be a mom more than anything else in the world. At 31 weeks, I was hospitalized for preterm contractions, placed on Mag Sulfate, bed rest for a few days. Got them stopped. I do not know what it is about being pregnant; but he hated me while I had that belly. He beat me almost every day. Guess how may nurses or doctors asked me while I was pregnant if I was being abused; what those marks were from? NOT ONE. At 37 weeks and three days, he hit me so hard my placenta partially abrupted. He was nice enough to take me to the ER right away.

    They got the monitor on in time to see the FHR at 52 and dropping. Dropped to nothing. They knocked me out, took my baby by emergency C-section, and got vital signs back. They saved my son.

    While I was out, they happened to ask my oh so wonderful husband what were our birth control plans? Did we want a tubal? That was our plans, he said. So they did it. After I woke up and they presented me with my first of at least nine children (I thought) the nurse mentioned how I (at 21, mind you) did not have to worry about hormonal birth control when breast-feeding since the tubal was done, how wonderful for me... Excuse me, what was that? I was brought paperwork from the legal department and signed them promising not to sue. The OB-GYN that had done my C-section and tubal swore to me he would do everything he could to reverse the tubal and make sure I was fertile again. Still no one asked the obvious, "What was going on here?"

    I got home with our new baby. That day, my ex-husband hurt me, badly. He ruptured my uterus. The scarring from that... I would never carry another child. I had the most painful menstrual cycles. After a few years, I had a D&C and ablation. No more menses. Even less hope of having my dozen children. I never got that tubal reversed.

    No one ever asked, "Do you feel safe at home?" "Has anyone ever punched, kicked, or pushed you?" "Does your partner monitor your time, or constantly accuse you of cheating?" "Are you being isolated from your family or friends?"

    Eventually, after another 3 years of abuse, I grew some courage. I went back to school for nursing. I learned I was not stupid. I learned that people, even men, could talk to me and respect me without wanting to sleep with me. I learned that I deserved respect and civility and I was DONE being abused. I kicked that man out of my home. I still have to face him, every other weekend, because that is how the legal system works. He has rights to see his son. I have no rights to feel safe but that is not the focus.

    Friends, here is what I want. I want you to ask every single women you see in your career those questions about domestic abuse. I beg you to make a difference. I want you to educate yourselves on the signs of domestic abuse and stand up for the women who have been beaten into submission and cannot stand up for themselves. I cannot explain to you the soul deep belief that I deserved to be treated that way. The nightmares I still have. The crushing guilt I experience for allowing this man to father my baby. My only baby. It was MY FAULT. I own that. However, how much sooner could I have gotten help if even one nurse had made a simple assessment?

    Please, contact your local crisis intervention, police stations, etc. Find out the resources you can offer women. You will be shocked at how very little help there is. Statistics show less than 30% of women with traumatic injuries seen in the emergency room are assessed for domestic abuse. Studies are done that conclude it takes at least three times asking a domestic victim, alone with only a nurse asking, to admit to being abused. Domestic abuse victims are 46% more likely than non-abused women to seek medical care for illness, solely in the hope that someone, anyone, will notice them and help them. Please. Ask those few extra questions. Dedicate yourselves to be devoted to service for human welfare. Do you remember that part of the Nightingale Pledge? Hold that in your hearts.
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Aug 24, '13
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    About opdahlamber, ADN, RN

    Almost RN happily re-married to a wonderful man and am out to change the way society treats victims.

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    Registered Nurse; from US
    Specialty: 3 year(s) of experience in Long term care

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  3. by   ScientistSalarian
    Wow .... I can't even begin to comprehend what you've been through but I so admire your courage in turning your experience into an opportunity to educate others and raise awareness of this issue. I'm only a student at this point but when I start practicing as a nurse I promise you I'll remember this.
  4. by   dreamymevines
    You have a testimony...I'm glad you shared your story, you never know who this may help!!!!
  5. by   jadelpn
    Thank you for having the courage to share this story.
    You have no idea how many lives you could save.
    Ask every person, every time you initially assess--anyone can be abused.
    Remember, as nurses we need to respect and hold on to the idea that patients need to be assessed alone.
    "Do you feel safe at home" is a simple question, but can be a profound relief to a patient in need.
  6. by   Esme12
    I was 19 and newly married ....Madly in LOVE. He was 27 previously married with 2 children. He had a respectable job in law enforcement. I was unprepared for my future and my youth made me confident....fearless. I was so wrong.

    OP I could have written this my self.....I was you....many years ago in another life. The details different but no less terrifying. How do you go to the police when they are the police. What do you do when you tell the police and they encourage yo to work it out. I came from a loving family as he slowly weaved his web of deceit and isolation. I was already a nurse!!!! How in heavens name did I find myself here????

    OP...........coming from a previous marriage of abuse...this needs to be said. This is a message to all nurses that are afraid/embarrassed/uncomfortable to ask....... is anyone emotionally or physically abusing you? Do you feel safe? This single question would have helped me sooner for I would have answered ....yes. We need to use, and perfect, those all important assessment skills which includes the admission interview/assessment and learn the non verbal ques that something is amiss. That moment they look away. The avoidance of eye contact. Shifting/fidgeting in the chair....a vague restlessness that says no verbally to move on.

    This is why I tell nursing student to not do their "interviews" online when they get the assignment in school. They need to learn how to go outside their box/comfort zone and learn how to gain someone's trust in 3 minuets or less as well as learning to read and assess these non verbal ques.....for they can save someone's life.

    I think everyone needs to red this.

    I believe with all my heart.......This is a message to all nurses that are afraid or embarrassed to ask.....or think this question isn't anyone emotionally or physically abusing you? Do you feel safe?

    Our powerful assessment skills to and ability to read between that lines can save a life. I know that years ago if someone would have asked someone hurting you I would have answered Yes.
  7. by   cjdmomma
    The one time I was ever asked the question, "Do you feel safe at home?" Was before the birth of my first child... IN FRONT OF MY HUSBAND. Seriously. I was/am safe at home, but I looked that the nurse and said, "Even if I wasn't, do you think I would say so in front of him??"

    OP. I wish I could hug you, I am very sorry you had to go through this. I live in Iowa, too. Thank you for your courage in telling your story. It matters.
  8. by   traumaRUs
  9. by   GoalSeeker
    You are definitly a survivor. Thank you for this article. I will do my research to make sure I assess and provide the proper information if someone was in need of it.
  10. by   mrsshifflette09
    Thank you so much or sharing your story and using it to teach us! You could possible save so many lives by posting this. I often forget the importance of that question that we ask our patients and I feel it often gets overlooked. Your story brought tears to my eyes and I will remember this from now on when I see that question on our admission paperwork.
  11. by   multi10
    This happened to me as well. My abuser was a very prominent man in the community. I had grown up in a stable and loving family, with parents always together, and uncles, cousins and brothers who would never physically hurt a woman. It was considered low-class and cowardly.

    I met the man and we became engaged, then I moved in with him. The process of escalating abuse was insidious; it started with excessive "checking up" on me throughout the day, then verbal abuse, then shoving, slapping, punching and finally a black eye and strangle marks around my neck. I took pictures of the bruises and marks. I left him and he tracked me down and threatened me. At that point I sued him in civil court. I had lots of evidence, including threatening voice-mails and roommate eyewitness account of his stalking me. One of his favorite tactics was threatening to harm our beloved pet.

    After that I wrote a federal grant under the Violence Against Women Act and was funded to assist victims to get protective orders in court. Sadly, the statistics reveal that it takes the typical victim 7 tries to finally get away from the abuser. I found this frustrating, as many of the victims I assisted returned to the abuser or let the abuser back in the home.

    Domestic Violence is a Public Health problem and Prevention is the key although it is difficult to recognize the signs when you are in the middle of such a relationship. Typically the abuser apologizes and is contrite, but it's just a matter of pushing boundaries to determine how much you will put up with. It's like the "Frog in the Water" parable: Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump right out. Put it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it will cook to death.

    My abuser refused to admit to anything, despite all of the evidence, until he settled the Friday before the trial was scheduled for the following Monday. This was after nearly 4 years of litigation. I am so happy I stood up to him.
  12. by   NurseDirtyBird
    Firstly, I want to thank you all for sharing your very moving stories. It takes a lot of courage to tell these stories, and took a lot of courage for you to escape such dangerous situations. Nobody should suffer at the hands of someone who is supposed to love them, and I am sorry you did. It's a terrible aspect of our society that violence in the home is still considered acceptable to a degree.

    Secondly, I would like to remind everyone else that this is not a gender specific or hetero-specific danger. Women can be perpetrators as well, whether in gay or straight relationships. Men can also be victims, in both gay and straight relationships. In all my years of volunteering with a local crisis line, I had exactly one man call needing help escaping domestic violence. That doesn't mean there weren't more - domestic violence against men is dreadfully under-reported because of the widespread belief that "real men" can't be victims. So please nurses, assess EVERYBODY for domestic safety if you have suspicions.
  13. by   DedHedRN
    I was 16 and pregnant with a 32 year old "boyfriend". No one ever asked me anything. I wont even go into how horribly I was abused. No one wanted to hear it then, and no one wants to hear it now. Only reason I escaped him was because he was carted off to prison after a 10 hour stand off with police where he held my toddler son prisoner and threatened to "gut him like a fish and throw the guts out the window" after stabbing me. We are lucky to be alive.

    When I see the signs, I ask. Everyone should ask.
  14. by   JoseQuinones
    I grew up in a situation like this one. I determined never to follow my parents down that road. Today I take pride in loving my wife fully, cherishing her, and treating her with the respect she deserves. In a world where so many women suffer at the hands of monstrous men, I am determined that my woman will always know she has a man who values her and where she can rest her head in an oasis of peace and love. Where I do the cooking when she works late without being asked, and the back rubs and foot rubs are free with no pressure to "pay" for them. In the three years we dated and the six years we have been married, not once have we had a fight or an argument. I think it's safe to say that nine years in, I have broken the cycle of abuse and hatred in the home I grew up in. Yes, there are always choices.
    Last edit by JoseQuinones on Aug 24, '13 : Reason: edit