I took my husband to the hospital recently. While being triaged in the Emergency Room, to my surprise, his triage nurse asked him if he felt safe at home.

I am so happy that this nurse initiated this question, but I could not help but notice how it was asked. You see the nurse asked him this question after I had already been identified as his wife. Also, the nurse never looked up from the computer monitor when asking my husband if he felt safe at home. During the process of going through the Emergency Department and being admitted, my husband was asked by 4 separate nurses if he felt safe at home. Each time they asked him this question no one asked me to step outside the room, and each nurse rushed through these questions because they are simply protocol.
As a domestic violence victim advocate, I am extremely happy that nurses are being trained to ask these questions. I think that this is a wonderful practice because it could start a dialogue for someone that does not know how to ask for help. My only concern is how these questions were executed. It got me thinking how we approach potential victims of domestic violence. It is so important for the person being questioned to feel like this information will be shared in a safe place and kept confidential.
The most critical thing to remember is the safety of the person that is in a violent relationship. Abuseintervetion.org has an informative list of do’s and don’ts for providing support to abuse victims. The following is a list of some of the ways to approach someone in an abusive relationship:
1. Pick a time and place that is safe and confidential.
2. Start by expressing concern.
3. Take time to listen and believe what they say.
4. Communicate that you care, that they should not be hurt, and this is not their fault.
5. Assure them that they are not crazy, and it is ok to feel upset, depressed, confused, or scared.
6. Remind them of good things about them.
7. Respect their choices.
8. Encourage them to build a support system and think about joining a support group.
9. Be patient. Go at their pace even if it takes time.
10. Connect them to the local domestic violence agency.
11. Contact your local domestic violence agency for more information.
It is so crucial to know how to start these conversations. A simple question like, “Do you feel safe at home?” can potentially change someone’s life, but it has to be asked in the right way. This is a question that needs to be asked one on one. The person asking this question should look at the other person and attempt to make eye contact. Victims of domestic violence sometimes have a hard time keeping eye contact or try to avoid making eye contact.
Body language is also imperative during this process. Along with looking at the other person and attempting to make eye contact, think about how you are sitting or standing. Make sure to get on the level of that person. Lean your body in during the conversation. Do not rush through any questions. When the other person starts to talk, actively listen.
It is essential to never place blame on the victim. They never asked for this, and if they choose to stay remember that you might not have all the information on how they came to this decision. It is vital that the victim make the choice to leave the abusive relationship themselves. Encourage them that they have the right to be safe. Make sure they know that you will always be there to listen without judgment. You do not have to be an expert to listen and connect with resources.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship we can help. Crisis Services of North Alabama provides free confidential support. We can be reached locally at (256)574-5826 or at our 24 hour HELPline at (256)716-1000. Please reach out before it is too late. No one should have to go through this alone!

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