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San Diego County releases guidelines for medical personnel to assess domestic violence

The new standards aim to provide medical personnel with the tools for identifying signs of intimate partner violence -- particularly strangulation.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Young woman is sitting hunched at a table at home, the focus is on a man's fist in the foregound of the image

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County officials released a countywide set of guidelines Wednesday for medical professionals to screen for signs of domestic violence when assessing patients.

The new standards aim to provide medical personnel with the tools for identifying signs of intimate partner violence -- particularly strangulation -- and guidance on how to respond when suspicious injuries are discovered.

Officials say recognition of these signs is a necessary preventative measure, with healthcare personnel often the first and only people able to assist victims when they are apart from their abusers.

"Domestic violence, including strangulation, goes largely under- reported by survivors," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. "Healthcare staff can be a critical point of intervention and connection to help in a safe and private setting."

The standards were developed over the past year by the Healthcare Committee of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council and approved by county health officials and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County's public health officer, said, "The purpose behind these standards is to have a collective and coordinated healthcare community response as we see and treat patients who have experienced violent crime."

Claudia Grasso, president of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, said the goal is "for universal screening in healthcare settings, where every patient is asked whether they are experiencing abuse and received education and resources. Even if that patient is not personally experiencing abuse, odds are that they know someone who is and this information could make a difference to someone who needs help."

According to the DA's office, a recently implemented county policy requiring training for more than 5,000 peace officers on detecting signs and symptoms of strangulation has coincided with a reduction in domestic violence homicides in the county.

Stephan said a reported 15% decrease in domestic violence homicides involving strangulation since 2017 is "the most compelling data point that the partnership between healthcare and public safety is working."

WATCH RELATED: Gabby Petito case draws renewed awareness to domestic violence (Sept. 22, 2021)


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