Violence against women common at psychiatric hospitals

According to the Department of Justice, every year about 1.3 million women in the United States are assaulted by an intimate partner, 1 in every 6 women are victims of rape, and there is an incidence of abuse against women in nearly 80 percent of intimate partner homicides. This pattern of violence against women is on exhibition in our psychiatric hospitals where over 80 percent of the residents have experienced sexual or physical abuse.

Victims of abuse must receive treatment that focuses on trauma and recovery. The practice of housing victims and offenders in co-ed hospital wards can readily lead to fear and abuse. Exploitive behavior is predictable, detrimental to wellness, and preventable.

To address the incidence of violence against women in Maryland psychiatric hospitals, in 2005 a committee including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the attorney general, and the directors of a number of Maryland psychiatric hospitals met with consumers and advocates, including the Maryland Disability Law Center. The committee recommended the development of female-only units, and, based on outcomes, the expansion of such units. The committee also recommended the separation of bedrooms in co-ed units according to gender.

The recent murder of a woman in the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center ("Mental patient charged in woman's death lived in coed hall, despite violent history," Sept. 27) stands as a call to action. A man with a history of committing acts of violence against women was placed in a co-ed hospital unit, and authorities allege that he took the opportunity to enter a woman's room and end her life. Her death demands that Maryland address the incidence of violence against women inside hospital walls.

In March 2010, Maryland accepted $2.4 million under the Violence Against Women Act, recognizing that violence against women is a horrific problem that must be addressed. It is time to show us the money. The safety of vulnerable women locked in state control must not be relegated to a committee report. Maryland must take action.

Sarah Rhine, Baltimore

The writer is a staff attorney at the Maryland Disability Law Center.

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