News Release: Research

Apr. 5,  2010

Georgia Ranks 15th in Nation for Domestic Violence

News Article ImageThe 2009 Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report, issued jointly by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.

The numbers for national domestic violence statistics are sobering, nearly one in three American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Each year since 1976, about 30 percent of all female murder victims are killed by their intimate partner.

According to a new study conducted by the Violence Policy Center, Georgia ranks 15th in the nation for its rate at which men kill women in single-victim homicides, most of which are domestic violence murders.

The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Georgia Commission on Family Violence issued the 6th annual Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report in March which showed conditions had improved from three years ago, when the state was ranked seventh for such homicides. Still, Georgia's domestic violence organizations responded to over 72,000 incidents last year. And in the last seven years, 835 Georgians lost their lives to domestic violence.

The report analyzes these homicides and near-deadly assaults, provides strategies for ending domestic violence and spotlights communities that have successfully implemented recommendations from previous reports.

Emory University's Sheryl L. Heron, MD, MPH, FACEP, associate professor of emergency medicine and practicing physician, recently was present at the unveiling of the Fatality Report. She says that the fatality report highlights the need for the newly revised medical protocol on Intimate Partner Violence by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.

Heron, who works in the emergency department at Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital, says she welcomes all resources that will allow her and fellow colleagues do their vital work to the best of their ability.

"Spearheaded by Melissa Danesh, who was an intern with the Georgia Commission, this medical protocol will improve the knowledge and perhaps behavior on how victims of Domestic Violence are treated," says Heron. "This is essential particularly since the Georgia Fatality report highlights that several victims ‘turned to emergency rooms and other health care professionals multiples times for treatment.'" Heron is the co-chair for the Intimate Partner Violence Working Group at Emory and the associate director for education at the Emory Center for Injury Control.

"Intimate partner violence is about one person getting and keeping power and control over another person in an intimate relationship," notes Heron. "The abusive person could be a current or former spouse, live-in lover or dating partner. Intimate partner violence has been described as a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation and emotional, sexual or economic abuse to control and change the behavior of the other partner."

The 2009 Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report found, in line with national research, that the majority of people killed were trying to leave an abusive relationship. "Seventy five percent of those murders happen when the victim tries to leave the relationship," says Kirsten Rambo, the executive director of the Commission. "These deaths are preventable when communities work together."

The new medical protocol calls for trained health care professionals to routinely screen patients for intimate partner violence to reduce the likelihood of violence developing into a pattern of repeated assault and emotional suffering. This includes addressing the victim's physical and psychosocial well-being by involving medical personnel, social and mental health services, counselors and when applicable, law enforcement.

The report urges frontline healthcare professionals to consider intimate partner violence in any case when the patient:

  • presents with an injury not likely to be caused by the event reported
  • presents with an injury occurring during pregnancy
  • presents for treatment one or two days after the injury
  • minimizes the frequency or seriousness of the injury
  • presents with multiple injuries in various stages of healing
  • makes repeated visits to the emergency department, clinic or physician's office with injuries, especially if severity increases at each visit
  • presents following an attempted suicide, drug overdose or self- mutilation is accompanied by an overly attentive or aggressive partner
  • presents with undetermined sources of medical or psychological complaints, such as unexplained illnesses or pains, or sleep disorders and loss of appetite.

"This protocol, in its updated form, primarily focuses on Intimate Partner Violence," explains Heron. "We are acutely aware of child maltreatment and the need for the protection of elders. I am hopeful the protocol will serve as another resource to assist those who seek a health care professional due to harm by their partner."

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