Guest Blog: Fighting Violence Against Women Together

Susan M. Lemagie, MD

Susan M. Lemagie, MD

Every day news from around the world highlights acts of egregious violence against women: the rape and murder of a female medical student in India, acid throwing and subsequent suicides of women in Central Asia, and the Taliban bullet to the brain of a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan who was targeted for promoting education for girls and women. While the scale here at home may be different, women in the US are not immune to violence.

Today, 1 in 4 women in the US has been physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former partner. Homicide is a leading cause of pregnancy-associated mortality in the US, with the majority being committed by an intimate partner. And as demonstrated in the last election, there are still many people who attempt to dictate a woman’s relationship with her doctor and her ability to make her own reproductive health choices. These efforts teeter on the edge of reproductive and social coercion.

In defense of women, ACOG has issued several recent documents—including committee opinions on reproductive and sexual coercion, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and human trafficking—to raise awareness of the abusive treatment that some women in the US regularly face. ACOG has also developed patient outreach materials that provide information and resources to women in need.

ACOG has partnered with Futures without Violence on a guide titled Addressing Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual and Reproductive Coercion, which encourages ob-gyns to screen patients for domestic violence and recognize the signs of abuse. It also provides tools for health care providers to help women build healthy relationships and be safe in their own homes. Many thanks to ACOG’s Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women and the ACOG National staff for their ongoing efforts to advocate for women.

Now it is our turn as ob-gyns to speak up for our patients and their families. At this year’s Congressional Leadership Conference, March 3–5, 2013, more than 300 ob-gyns will lobby Congress to support ACOG’s Women’s Health Resolution. The resolution lists 14 non-negotiable rights that every woman in the US should be allowed, including the right to be free from gender-based violence. We will also convey to our legislators that our highest professionalism emerges when we base our care on the best scientific evidence, without legislative interference in our role as women’s health care physicians.

As we prepare for our lobby day, I’m filled with both a sense of duty and of pride. We can once again stand up as supporters of our patients and champions of women. It’s what we signed up for as ob-gyns, and it’s the right thing to do.

Susan M. Lemagie, MD, is an ob-gyn in Alaska and a member of ACOG’s Executive Board.

Protecting Teen Girls from Violence

Approximately one out of every 10 high school teenage girls in the US reported experiencing physical violence from their dating partners in the previous year. This is not abstract—this could be happening to someone you know. A girl in your family or community may have recently been slapped, punched, kicked, pushed or grabbed, sexually coerced or raped, called names online, threatened, or screamed at in public—all by the person she is in an intimate relationship with.

Throughout February, ACOG and other organizations have been raising awareness as part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. It’s important that we educate young girls—and women—that unsafe relationships are not only about physical violence. Those who monitor cell phone use, stalk or humiliate online, or control their partner’s wardrobe, choice of friends, or contraceptive use are abusive.

As a father and grandfather, I want to do everything in my power to make sure my children and grandchildren are safe. This feeling extends into my practice as well. As an ob-gyn, I am in a unique position to reach out to my patients, letting them know my office is a safe environment in which they can seek help. ACOG recommends that physicians screen all women for intimate partner violence at periodic intervals. Recognizing violence in a teenage girl’s relationship can be especially critical because adolescent violence can lead to intimate partner violence when she grows up.

To get help for yourself or someone you love, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE. Teens can also learn about healthy relationships at loveisrespect.org or get teen-specific help through the Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474.