Domestic Violence Rates Are Alarming
When I first opened my practice as a young surgeon and father of two young children, I often cared for patients in the emergency room at a nearby hospital. As a board-certified head and neck surgeon, I saw trauma and injuries of every kind, but I was particularly disturbed by the number of women and children I saw in the emergency room with injuries due to domestic violence.
And now, years later, it is alarming to see that domestic violence is still a pandemic within a pandemic. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in domestic and intimate partner violence. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, domestic violence cases increased by 25-33% globally in 2020.
Surveys around the world have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020—jumping markedly year over year compared to the same period in 2019. In the U.S. the situation is equally troubling, with police departments reporting in cities around the country increases of 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Oregon, and 10% in New York City, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
As the pandemic has dragged on, so too has the abuse. Just as the virus continues to claim more lives, quarantine-linked domestic violence is claiming more victims and not just women in heterosexual relationships. Intimate partner violence occurs in same-sex couples at rates equal to or even higher than the rates in opposite sex partners. And over half of the victims receive blows and injuries to the head and face.
Communities of color are more affected, with systemic inequities meaning lower income and less access to social and private services. “While one in three white women report having experienced domestic violence [during the pandemic], the rates of abuse increased dramatically to 50% and higher for those marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, and cognitive physical ability” stated Erika Sussman, executive director of the Center for Survivor Advocacy and Justice (CSAJ).
The scars, both mental and physical, need to be addressed. With my training, I know that I can make a lifelong positive impact on the physical appearance of these victims so that they have less of a reminder when they look in a mirror every day.
In 1995, I founded The Face Foundation to provide an avenue for survivors without the financial means to obtain quality facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, pro bono, to help them regain a sense of inner and outer beauty. Through The Face Foundation, I provide complimentary reconstructive facial surgical services. In addition, some hospitals also donate resources such as operating rooms, nursing staff time and supplies and the services of an anesthesiologist. The total average benefit to each patient is often in excess of $15,000. Surgery on battered women and children participating in The Face Foundation program is done in conjunction with a program sponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) and its Face To Face program, which won an AMA citation several years ago.
The AMA established policy is that reconstructive surgery to return patients to a pre-injury state should be covered by insurance companies. Unfortunately, many domestic violence victims are not covered by insurance, so programs such as Face to Face, The Face Foundation and others are a critical lifeline to a return to normalcy.
As physicians, I believe we can all make an impact in our individual ways to help reduce domestic violence and its effects on victims. Whether it is counseling patients, volunteering at call centers and shelters, or providing direct health care services to victims, every action of support can change a life.