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Broken Hearts And Broken Bones

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 their reason.
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.

"What happened?

"Nothing."

"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 services.

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.