The COVID-19 pandemic has many side effects outside of the actual disease. For some, it has brought added stress caused by income loss, increased social isolation and instability—all of which can increase the potential for domestic violence.
If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, have been sexually assaulted or are experiencing abuse or neglect, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
“Even if there aren’t any marks, or even if a person can’t remember all of the details of an attack, this shouldn’t stop a victim of domestic violence from coming to the emergency department,” says Leisa Yates, forensic nurse examiner for Carilion Clinic.
Dissociative amnesia, or memory loss, is common when a person blocks out certain information that is associated with a traumatic event. This can cause a victim to doubt themselves on whether an event really happened or how it happened. “As part of our exam, we provide patients with information on the neurobiology of trauma to help them better understand why they may not remember,” adds Yates.
Bruises and scars can be obvious signs of abuse, but Yates stresses that you don’t have to wait for marks to show up before coming to the hospital.
“Strangulation is something that we often see with domestic violence and sexual assault cases, however, that doesn’t always leave marks,” says Yates. “It is important that victims come to the emergency department as soon as possible because strangulation can cause internal and irreversible damage that only a CT scan could catch.”
Another reason why it is important to seek help immediately is because there is a limited amount of time to collect evidence.
“We only have 120 hours, or five days, to collect evidence for the Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK),” says Yates. “Even if the person is not sure if they want to press charges, we can still do the kit, check and make sure that they don’t have injuries and submit it anonymously. For pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infection prophylaxis (medication to prevent infection), we only have 72 hours for those to be effective.”
The PERK kit is stored for two years and if the victim decides to move forward with pressing charges during that time frame, a police officer can file to pull the kit.
Domestic violence generally starts with smaller warning signs that build up to bigger events.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, common signs of abusive behavior in a partner include:
- Telling you that you never do anything right.
- Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
- Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family or peers.
- Insulting, demeaning or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
- Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
- Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
- Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
- Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats or mace.
- Destroying your belongings or your home.
At Carilion Clinic, forensic nurse examiners provide full exams, arrange counseling, photograph injuries as evidence, connect patients to resources and can help relocate patients to a safer place.
If you’re experiencing domestic violence, call 911 if you're in immediate danger or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (tambien en Espanol) at 1-800-799-7233 to find information on how to connect with local resources in your community.
- U.S. Domestic Violence Programs and Shelters
- Domestic Violence Resources in Roanoke City
- Domestic Violence Resources in Roanoke County
- New River Valley Emergency Housing or Shelter
- Family Crisis Services in Tazewell
- Franklin County Family Resource Center
- Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
- Southside Center for Violence Prevention