Nearly 400 people attended the inaugural Patricia and Arthur Modell Symposium on Domestic Violence sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Social Work on Oct. 6. The program's title, "Giving Voice to Domestic Violence and Its Hidden Victims," prompted several speakers to call for greater visibility and openness as one way to confront the problem.
Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University of Maryland campus in Baltimore, welcomed the gathering in the School of Nursing auditorium by sharing several personal observations.
"As a pediatrician, it had been hidden to me," he said, that he had accepted the fact that medical students typically lack training in domestic violence detection and treatment. That changed after he became dean and vice president for clinical affairs at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and responded to an advocate's efforts to communicate the significance of domestic violence to medicine.
"I got it" he said, and subsequently established three endowed chairs related to domestic violence in the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.
After treating children who complained of abdominal pain, Perman said he has become aware too often and only too late that the causes were not of the sort that gastroenterologists are great at diagnosing.
"They came complaining for another reason," he said, indicating injuries or stress that children may sustain in households in which their mothers are battered. In his focus on interprofessional education, Perman recognizes that understanding how to respond to domestic violence will be critical.
Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean of the School, looked back at shifts in attitude that have helped lead to significant reductions overall in cases of child sexual abuse and child physical abuse over two decades.
"We have clearly changed the culture of what is acceptable to do and what is not acceptable to allow to go on," he said. "I have confidence that the same is happening with regard to intimate partner violence, and that changes in attitudes and actions will be accelerated by efforts like the one you have been part of today."
Barth clarified that social workers have had a long involvement with preventing and responding to intimate partner violence and that a new course at the School of Social Work is bringing much of what we know about best practices in this area into the mainstream of social work education.
The symposium was led by Carole Alexander, MA, a clinical instructor at the School who was previously executive director of the House of Ruth, a Baltimore nonprofit organization that assists women who have left abusive relationships. Fact sheets and other educational material distributed to attendees report the problem is widespread in the city and state.
On a single day, domestic violence programs in Maryland provided services to 1,082 adults and children and had 254 unmet requests for assistance, according to a survey of 24 programs taken as part of a national census in September 2009. During the 24-hour survey period, hotlines fielded approximately 26 calls an hour.
Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, delivered a keynote address, lamenting that the fictional escape route that she created in her novel, Black and Blue, could be of no help to the real women who have approached her. She called on feminists to look beyond career issues given that "women CEOs and women senators aren't so important if women aren't safe."
Bringing a legal perspective was Katie O'Malley, JD, Maryland's First Lady and a former prosecutor who serves as a judge in Baltimore City District Court.
"A protective order is a piece of paper," she said, noting the importance of a firearms-surrender law passed under the administration of her husband, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, whose cousin was murdered by a boyfriend.
The law gives judges the authority to take guns from the hands of abusers, greatly lessening the odds a woman will become a homicide victim.
In Maryland, more than half of deaths related to domestic violence involve use of a gun. The ramifications of intimate partner abuse are pervasive, said a panel of experts. Adverse health effects for children of abused women start when the infant is still in the womb, said Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. As children grow up, they exhibit other signs such as post traumatic stress disorder. If they have asthma, for example, the illness has an earlier onset and attacks are likely to be more severe than in children who are raised without the stress of violence at home.
Tania Araya, MSW '95, LCSW, a special projects manager with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said one in four teens experience some sort of dating violence before completing high school. The episodes increasingly involve use of technology to "harass, control and frighten victims into staying in relationships."
Leslie Morgan Steiner, MBA, author of Crazy Love, a book about her experiences in an abusive first marriage after graduating from an Ivy League college, urged listeners to discard stereotypes. Remarried and living in Washington, D.C., she has become a mother of three. Steiner suggested speaking frankly to one another and, in age-appropriate ways, to even the youngest children. She said, "By talking to kids like that, you break the silence."
At least two groups of high school students were in attendance, made up of 10 from Notre Dame Preparatory School and seven from Gilman School.
The event, which allowed social workers who registered in advance to earn continuing education credits, was made possible through the generosity of Arthur and Patricia "Pat" Modell and Margery Dannenberg.
Co-chairs were Pat Modell, Barbara Brody, and Donna Kovacs. School of Social Work Advisory Board member Meadowlark Washington was among the members of the planning committee.