The Days After

William Freeman is a healer, but there are some wounds that even he knows can't be salved, wrapped or mended.

As a doctor at University Medical Center, Freeman's mission is to help others with their broken limbs, aches and pains. But there are times when he feels helpless, especially when faced with a patient who may be a victim of domestic violence.

Freeman said he thinks he sees about three domestic battery victims in the emergency room a month, but those are only the cases that are confirmed. There are some cases - broken arms from "clumsy falls," blackened eyes from "tripping into the counter" - that his gut tells him are something more.

"It's a silent disease. People don't want to report it. For every case we know is a case, there's probably three that aren't reported," he said.

Freeman can't report his suspicions of abuse unless the patient was shot, stabbed or raped.

"Like child abuse, you look out for it, but in the state you have to report violent crime - use of knife, gun or weapon or rape - but you don't have to report domestic battery," he said. "It's a difficult situation for a physician. You want to protect the patient, but you also want to protect the patient's rights."

Freeman said he wishes there was a service for victims of domestic violence, like the one available for rape victims through the Sexual Abuse Response Center, which meets rape victims at the hospital.

But there are times when ER staff meet with victims and give them phone numbers for help lines such as Faith House or other support services.

"I even make phone calls to get them picked up," Freeman said.

"We encourage them that if they feel safe to report it, go to police and file a temporary restraining order," he said. "We have to walk that fine line because ultimately the patient has to make that decision.

"If we're suspicious, we broach the subject. Even if they say, 'No, no, no,' I'll say, 'Look, here's the number to Faith House. Call if you feel like you're in trouble.' "

One story sticks with Freeman. He can't shake the memory of a patient whose husband had beaten her badly and threatened her because she refused to move away from their home in Lafayette.

Freeman and the staff spent a couple of hours helping her come up with a plan to go where she would be safe, making the phone calls.
"Ultimately, we watched her walk out of here," he said. "It was heartbreaking watching that, but she feared retribution."