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Innovative Utah training teaches clinicians to prevent domestic violence

Ashley Weitz of Salt Lake City hopes for a healthier life for her 7-year-old son, Ezra, than the one she had growing up. (KSL TV)

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It might be your mother, your sister, or your friend: 1 in 3 women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

A new program was designed in Utah to help health care professionals recognize the signs of domestic violence, to protect moms and their children.

Ashley Weitz hopes for a healthier life for her 7-year-old son, Ezra, than the one she had growing up. "Sometimes violent, sometimes angry, sometimes really loud," said Weitz, who lives in Salt Lake City.

Weitz said her parents had an abusive relationship. It affected her physically, mentally, and emotionally. "(It) has such an impact on the little ones who are watching," she said.

Emilie Johnson and Linda Sossenheimer, along with the Trauma and Injury Prevention Program at University of Utah Health, are training clinicians to prevent intimate partner violence. That begins with establishing trust. "Creating a therapeutic relationship with the patient, even if it's a very short period of time if you're with them for three minutes or five minutes, what does that look like?" said Sossenheimer, RN, Clinical Education Outreach Nurse at University of Utah Health.

Rather than typical screening questions, they encourage open-ended questions that are less threatening. "'Tell me a little bit about your home life.' Like, 'Are you married? Or what is your situation?'" Sossenheimer explained.

The program is tailored to combat cultural norms that prevent people from seeking help. "Perhaps airing your dirty secrets is difficult."

They encourage clinicians to recognize risk factors with patients, like childhood trauma, and to help promote protective factors for women. They stress the need to involve men and students in the conversation.

Johnson, RN, Injury and Outreach Coordinator at University of Utah Health, said, "We should be talking healthy versus unhealthy in high school."

Through the program, they've trained 200 clinicians, and hope to train thousands more in the coming years. "You're saving yourself and the life of your children," Johnson said.

Weitz said a program like this could have saved her from a lifetime of pain. "It can help to model for the young people in our lives healthy relationships, and how to get their needs met," she said. If she could talk to the scared little girl she once was, she'd offer hope of better things to come. "I wish I could go back and tell her all about this beautiful baby," Weitz said.

The program is funded through a grant from the Utah Department of Health.

Domestic violence resources

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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