As O.J. drove down the freeway in his insane
flight from reality; the news media reminisced
about his exploits - the battering of his opponents
on the football field and apparently the battering
of his wife off it. Whether or not he proves guilty
of heinous murders, he is not alone among men
(and a few women) who have let passion control
Recently a woman came to the emergency room complaining
of injuries from a "fall." "I tripped
and fell," she said. But the signs of domestic
violence were difficult to hide. She had old and
new bruises about her head, neck, chest, and breasts.
Her forearms were especially swollen and bruised
from fending off blows. But I can't tell you this
is the story of one woman. Because it is the same
story for many.
Four million women are battered by their husbands
or lovers each year. About 2,000 die as a result.
One of every three women murdered in California
is a victim of an abusive husband. Certainly sometimes
men are battered by women. But in more than a
dozen years of emergency practice, I have seen
hundreds of battered women and only two men.
Women who are battered often have old injuries.
X-rays can reveal old fractures that reinforce
a diagnosis of partner abuse. The patient may
also come in several days after an injury - sometimes
because of fear and embarrassment in revealing
the nature of their home life, sometimes because
they were prevented from leaving home.
But diagnosing "battering" is not
usually easy. More often than not, a woman will
deny the obvious. Her reasons may be embarrassment,
fear of reprisal, low self-esteem, or a desire
to protect her family or her partner. And sometimes
no injury is evident and the patient's complaints
may seem totally unrelated to domestic violence.
These may be women who present with psychosomatic
complaints, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts,
or abuse of drugs or alcohol.
In California, when a woman admits that she
has been assaulted or there is evidence that an
assault has occurred, a physician is legally required
to report the assault to police. And the police
that come to the E.R., are expert in the calm
reassurance of victims of domestic violence. But
far too often, their visits are futile and the
conversations that take place between police and
victim are a circus maze of logic.
"How did you break your arm?"
"I don't want him arrested."
"So, you were assaulted."
"He won't do it again."
"Has he ever assaulted you before?
"Yes, but he said he won't do it again."
The police can't do anything if they have no
victim. So, for the police to act, a victim of
domestic violence must first admit she is a "victim."
Filing a police report doesn't mean anyone has
to be arrested or that a case has to go to court.
But filing one is important because that report
might be useful if a woman decides at a later
date to pursue other legal recourses, such as
restraining orders, or custody of children. And
despite a woman's possible fears of reprisals,
women who do report attacks are far less likely
to be attacked again.
Besides medical treatment, a battered woman
is given other information, including referrals
to local shelters for battered women and counseling
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you
can obtain further information by calling the
National Organization for Victim Assistance, 800-TRY-NOVA.
Sadly, domestic violence is primarily a sickness
of men. But men, unless taken to task by law,
rarely seek help. It may seem a difficult task
for wives and lovers, but if they're victims,
it is up to them to help themselves by forcing
their partners to get help.