Domestic Violence Awareness: How FACT Services Help Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

Ariel Ward, RN, is the director of the Inova Ewing Forensic Assessment and Consultation Team (FACT). She is a registered nurse with clinical training as a forensic nurse examiner.

The statistics on domestic violence in the United States are both sobering and alarming: Each year, more than 10 million men and women are physically abused by their partners. And throughout a lifetime, one in nine men and one in four women experience intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence or stalking.

The effects of domestic abuse are long-lasting. Victims of intimate partner violence have higher risks of depression, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder and other conditions.

At Inova Health System, we’re dedicated to supporting and advocating for survivors of domestic abuse. The Inova Ewing Forensic Assessment and Consultation Team (FACT) addresses the unique needs of abused children and adults with a compassionate, patient-first approach.

Understanding domestic abuse

Over the last two years, cases of domestic violence have increased in both volume and intensity. For people on the outside of intimate partner violence, it’s easy to make assumptions about why a victim may stay with their partner or avoid reporting the abuse.

But it’s important to understand that there is an extensive, complex range of reasons why people have a hard time separating from an abuser. And while it is best for people to escape their abuser when it’s an option, there are many cases where doing so is unsafe.

Some of the barriers to leaving an abuser or reporting violence may include:

  • Cultural or religious pressure or pressure from family members
  • Fear for their children’s or other loved ones’ safety
  • Financial dependence
  • Isolation from family and friends  
  • Lack of support from law enforcement, who may view violence as a domestic dispute
  • Manipulation or gaslighting from the abuser
  • Threat of escalating violence

Inova provides advocacy and medical care for all victims of intimate partner violence, regardless of whether they are ready to report the violence or leave their abuser. We support every patient in making their own decisions regarding medical care and law enforcement involvement. 

Services the FACT program offers

The FACT program treats people who have been victims of violence, including sexual violence, domestic abuse, trafficking, intimate partner violence and child abuse. We are the only clinic in northern Virginia offering 24/7 forensic medical evaluations and support services for patients who report a history of violence.

Our trauma-informed care team includes specially trained forensic nurses and physicians. FACT services include:

  • Forensic medical examinations
  • Injury documentation
  • Medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Reporting to law enforcement, if desired
  • Follow-up care for injuries or other needs 

Medical examinations take place in a calming, quiet environment. Our clinical environment and empathetic approach are vastly different than the fast-paced and overstimulating emergency department, where patients would otherwise have to go for a forensic medical exam.

We work closely with local law enforcement agencies to assist with reporting domestic violence and sexual assaults. However, we understand that many victims don’t want to involve law enforcement. In these cases, we keep medical forensic reports in our encrypted medical record without sharing them. If a patient decides to report the incident in the future, we can access the medical records to assist with documentation.  

What happens during a domestic violence exam?

When someone comes in for a domestic violence examination, one of the most important things we do is provide extensive education regarding their rights. We ensure that patients understand that the exam is voluntary and, in most cases, it’s their choice whether we report our findings to law enforcement.

A trauma-informed physician conducts a head-to-toe exam and offers the option of photo documentation. We then ask questions using a tool called the Danger Assessment. This helps us understand how much danger someone may be in at home. This evaluation is especially helpful for victims of violence to gauge more clearly how violence has escalated. We then connect patients with local resources and advocacy groups to ensure they have access to support services.

The Inova difference

At Inova, our foremost goal is to give people agency over what happens to them. For many of our patients, coming to our clinic is the first time they’re told they have a choice. Our priority is to ensure that people in our care feel safe and that their healthcare needs are met.

When needed, we can connect patients with ongoing primary care, OB/GYN or other medical services, as needed. We also work closely with local advocacy groups that provide other resources such as crisis intervention, emergency housing or ongoing mental health care. Our holistic approach connects victims of domestic violence with the healthcare services and resources they need long-term.

Contact FACT

To access FACT services at Inova, call 703-776-4001 and ask to page the FACT nurse. Services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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