Thursday, December 11, 2008
The number of homicides related to domestic violence in Maine more than doubled over the past year, prompting Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday to urge health care professionals to look even more carefully for signs of violence and sexual assault.
Domestic violence-related homicides in Maine rose from eight in all of 2007 to 17 so far this year, Baldacci said at a news conference, where he was joined by the state's attorney general and top health official, as well as several medical organizations and violence-prevention groups.
"The impact of domestic violence and sexual assault in Maine is staggering," Baldacci said. "This is a serious public health problem."
The state Center for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing an advisory on the matter to professional health care providers across Maine. CDC Director Dora Anne Mills said the advisory will go out to about 5,000 recipients, but it will probably be seen by twice as many health care providers.
Reporting of suspected cases of abuse is not mandatory in many incidents, as it is in child abuse cases. But state officials want more medical professionals to incorporate routine screenings into their practices, to be trained in spotting red flags and to ask patients directly whether they are safe at home.
In that way, patients can receive information on intervention services or other help to prevent further incidents. Perpetrators also can be referred to help services.
The state and violence-prevention groups also say screening itself can be a powerful intervention, even if no immediate disclosure results because it lets the patient know that violence is unsafe and does not have to be tolerated.
Officials said they did not see a direct link between the souring economy, which adds stress in many families, to the dramatic rise in domestic violence deaths.
"The economy doesn't cause violence," said Mills, although she acknowledged that added financial pressures could exacerbate it. Officials see a more direct link between substance abuse and sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Attorney General Steven Rowe said domestic violence brings an enormous cost in terms of medical treatment, lost work and other impacts.
Considering the estimated annual cost of $260 billion nationally, said Rowe, violence would have a $1.2 billion impact on the Maine economy.
Baldacci said 60 percent of Maine's homicides are related to domestic violence, and on average in Maine, a domestic assault is reported to police departments every hour and half.
"I think we here in Maine are saying we're not going to put up with this," said Baldacci. [Mark Godsey]