Doctors Begin Campaign to Help Battered Women

Associated Press

The leading association of physicians who treat women opened a campaign Tuesday to help battered women, and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said domestic violence has become an overwhelming public health burden.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it will try to raise the awareness of its 28,000 members to the problem and will give them information on how a doctor might help an abused woman.

Koop, who joined the physicians making the announcement, estimated that perhaps 15 million women in the United States have been beaten, raped or suffered from other forms of physical and sexual assault, and he said that the number rises by 1 million a year.


“It is an overwhelming moral, economic and public health burden that our society can no longer bear,” Koop said. “In this country, no man has a license to beat and get away with it, and no woman is obliged to accept a beating and suffer because of it.”

Koop noted that help is available through state and national and social service organizations, police agencies and the courts. He said that doctors must become part of the crusade against violence.

The surgeon general said, however, that he did not advocate requiring doctors to report all contacts with abused women. Such reporting, he said, could further endanger a woman by prompting retaliation against her or her children at a time when she may not have the money to leave home.

The association is sending its members pamphlets and bulletins describing the physical signs of abuse and suggesting how a doctor might counsel a woman who has been beaten. The material includes information about women’s legal rights, social services available to women and strategies for escaping from violent domestic situations.

“We are providing physicians with the tools they can use to help women escape from such a relationship,” said Luella Klein, a former president of the physicians’ association. “We don’t expect (obstetricians and gynecologists) always to treat the pathology of battering, but we expect them to tell women what their rights are under the law and advise a woman how to plan for dealing with her abusive partner.”

Doctors should pay particular attention to women who have head, facial, neck, chest, abdominal, breast or arm injuries, she said.

Abused women often complain of headaches, insomnia, sensations of choking and abdominal, chest, pelvic and back pain, Klein said. Such women, she added, may seem to be shy, frightened, embarrassed, evasive, anxious or passive, and they weep often.