The Medical Minute: Help domestic abuse victims by knowing the signs

October 16, 2013

One in five women will experience some degree of partner violence in her lifetime. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity to share the signs of an abusive relationship so that you, friends or family do not become part of the statistic.

Tiffanie Keck, YWCA medical advocate at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, offers ways to identify red flags in a friend's relationship or possibly in your own.

Do you see jealousy?

Is a partner calling or texting constantly and questioning who the person is with and what she is doing? A potential abuser could be jealous of any time his or her significant other is spending with other people, even at work.

“An abuser isolates their victim or survivor partner from the outside world,” Keck said. “It's easier to control someone if they don't have any friends, family or co-workers to reach out to."

Have you seen changes in wardrobe?

Uncharacteristic clothing may be being used to cover bruises or other injuries, or could be a sign of low self-esteem. It is also possible that she is required to wear what her abuser wants her to wear.

Has she been missing social functions?

Missing social functions could be because of incidents that have left her with bruises or other visible marks. Additionally, abuse victims sometimes withdraw from everyone around them.

Has mood or personality shifted?

A victim might be depressed or anxious, causing a change in sleep patterns or appetite. She may be overwhelmed by the need to please her partner.

Are there new health problems?

Changes in a potential victim's physical appearance would be obvious. They are quite often ill since stress can cause numerous health problems. Experiencing stress overload can also result in mental health issues.

“The important thing to remember is that it's all about power and control,” she said. “Victims often feel like they're going crazy because of the psychological abuse that they're experiencing,” she said.

Keck said it is important to be a supportive active bystander to someone you suspect needs help. It takes an average of seven to nine incidents before a victim will leave their abusive partner.

"The last thing we want to do is not be there to be supportive on that seventh or ninth time, whenever that might be," she said.

Keck's best advice is to be a nonjudgmental listener.

-- Ask questions like “How are things going?” and “Is there anything I can do for you?” without offering an opinion.

-- Remind her that she does not deserve to be treated poorly. The abuse is not her fault and she is not alone; other women have gone through the same thing.

-- Help her reach out to someone. Victims often need emotional support when taking the first step to getting help.

Locally, you can contact the Medical Center at 717-531-5188. In Pennsylvania, you can call 800-654-1211. Others can use the National Domestic Violence hotline online at or by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233).

All of these numbers will connect you to local services that are available 24 hours a day.

The YWCA sponsors awareness programs during a Week Without Violence held Oct. 14 to 20.

For more information, visit or

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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Last Updated October 24, 2013