Emergency Room Policy on Domestic Abuse
I got hurt because my boyfriend thought I was cheating on him. Does the hospital have to know how someone gets hurt or will they treat and release patients with no questions asked?
Currently, hospitals are not bound by any laws that require them to report cases of domestic violence to the authorities, unless there is a gun or a knife wound. There has been legislation proposed to requiring doctors to report domestic violence. It was largely opposed by emergency room physicians. The reality would have been to discourage many women from seeking medical care and getting the referrals to social services that should be part of such a visit. Adequate protection resources for the victim are lacking in many communities. And reporting can precipitate more violence by offending partner, immediately afterwards. This is a dangerous combination.
While disclosure isn't required, it is in a woman's best interests to
provide her healthcare providers with the most accurate
information she can in order to receive appropriate treatment. You
will have to give some explanation of how the injuries occurred.
What's called "the mechanism of injury" -- how you fell or got hit is
important in deciding on what to x-ray and how to treat injuries.
Most patients who try to substitute a story will leave out important
aspects of the injury.
Doctors, especially emergency room doctors, are knowledgable
about the ways bruises and fractures associated with beatings are
different than those caused by accidents. In many cases, the
doctor will suspect that you have been beaten anyway and will ask
Emergency departments are well-versed in domestic violence.
They will encourage you to report it to the police, but they won't
push. They know better than anyone about the real-life pitfalls,
dangers, and limitations of reporting domestic violence and
leaving the abuser. If you tell them everything, they will give you
referrals to resources to help you cope with the situation in ways
that you are willing to do today. They are more likely to photograph
injuries for use in any future legal proceeding, should you choose
to pursue that. And the abuse will be documented. Should it ever
occur again, documenting a pattern of abuse can be crucial to
getting the legal and police intervention that you may need.