A Place to Confide About Intimate Partner Violence
To Tali Ruskin, MSW, MPH, a medical office is a perfect place to ask people whether they are facing violence or coercion from a spouse or other intimate partner.
“It’s a place where people are coming to talk to a professional about really intimate things — about your health problems, about your body,” she says. “So it’s only natural that would be a setting where people could confide, because they’re already confiding so much.”
At Einstein Healthcare Network, Ruskin notes, “our policy is that every patient ages 12 and up is screened for domestic violence.”
And when that screening discovers a patient who wants to speak with a counselor, the provider will contact Ruskin, the Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Specialist at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Ruskin offers counseling and referrals to services for patients who want help in dealing with their situation.
Einstein is one of only four medical sites that has an intimate partner violence counselor on site through a program of Lutheran Settlement House. LSH is a social service agency based in the Fishtown section of the city. The hospitals are part of the agency’s STOP IPV program, which is Ruskin’s employer. Marcella Nyachogo, assistant director of the LSH Bilingual Domestic Violence Program, says STOP IPV is the only agency of its type in the city that has such a partnership with hospitals.
The program has been at Einstein since 2011, but Ruskin arrived only five months ago.
In that time, it’s not surprising that she’s been busy. After all, an estimated 1 in 3 U.S. adults will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) at some point. The term can include physical, sexual and emotional aggression or control in a variety of forms, including technology, finances and health-care access. Intimate partners include current or ex-spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, and dating or sexual partners.
Ruskin recently talked about the many dimensions of IPV — and its effects on the health of the abused partner — in an Einstein-produced video (link below). Other videos in the series will focus on IPV in the LGBTQ+ community, during pregnancy, and the impact of IPV on children.
Ruskin is on Einstein’s Philadelphia campus Monday through Thursday, 9 to 5, and on call Fridays. She can counsel employees, too, but so far nearly everyone who has sought her help was a patient or the parent of a patient.
“I let them guide the conversation,” she says, “and I listen for where things could go. Is this going to go in the direction of supportive counseling and listening and affirmation and support? Or is this person looking for something more concrete? Like, I know I want to get into a shelter. I know that I want to move to a new apartment, but I can’t afford the rent. I know that I want to go live with my mom but I can’t afford the bus ticket.”
Ruskin generally provides one counseling session to each person. She helps people strategize about ways to be safer. She can also offer practical advice, such as how to get a restraining order. If patients want longer-term counseling, emergency shelter, or other help in getting away from an abusive partner, Ruskin can refer them to the many programs available through Lutheran Settlement House.
People with children are often torn about whether to leave or stay in an abusive situation, Ruskin says. “I’m hearing a lot of patients talk about feeling stuck,” she says. “They don’t want to take their kids away from the partner but, for their own safety, they feel they need to get away from the partner.”
“Another thing I hear a lot,” she says, “is concern for the abusive partner, not wanting to get them locked up, not wanting their family to turn on them, not wanting the kids to turn on them.
“Ultimately, most people want the abusive partner to change. On an intellectual level, people understand it’s pretty unlikely and doesn’t really happen, but there’s still that hope. Where did that person go, the one I fell in love with?”
Ruskin, and her colleagues at Lutheran Settlement House, are there to help patients sort through these conflicting feelings and find solutions.
“What I love about this job,” she says, “is the gratitude I feel that people share with me such intimate parts of their lives and are so vulnerable with me, and they give me the opportunity to connect with them and do what I can to support them.”
Einstein patients and staff who are experiencing partner violence can reach Ruskin at 267-250-5869.
Learn more about intimate partner violence from Einstein’s video series.