July 2009

While working on her doctorate in mental health and psychiatric nursing at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Sara Torres, associate dean of the School of Nursing in Walden's College of Health Sciences, began volunteering at a local women's shelter that needed a bilingual counselor. Inspired by her work with battered women there, she went on to write her dissertation on the topic. Torres is now nationally known for her research on domestic violence, particularly in the Hispanic community.

Sara TorresWhat do you wish more people knew about domestic violence? First, that it can happen to anyone. And, second, that there are resources available—shelters, support groups, counseling—not just for women, but for battered men, too. About five percent of abusive relationships are women abusing men.

What domestic violence issues especially pertain to the Hispanic community? Immigrant women might not know the laws concerning domestic violence, and there may be a language barrier to seeking assistance. Also, they might not have a support system, because their family may be far away.

What signs indicate that someone may be experiencing domestic violence? There are obvious physical signs, such as bruises, and the person comes up with all kinds of reasons, like "I fell down the stairs." Or there might be other physical symptoms: Someone might always have headaches or an upset stomach, or they might be depressed. Some of the more obscure signs are that the wife doesn't go out, because the husband doesn't let her have friends. Or if she does go out, he's always calling and checking up on her.

What should someone do if they suspect abuse? I would try to talk to the woman and convince her that she should seek some assistance—and go with her if I have to, to make sure that it's safe for her. If she refuses, I would try to work with her on a plan in case she ever has to leave. This might involve saving money, making copies of important documents and having a friend keep them, having an extra set of car keys, and figuring out where she would go. And sometimes women will not act on their own behalf, but they'll act on behalf of the kids, if the children are in danger.

How do your research goals relate to Walden's social change mission? I'd like to develop more interventions to assist battered women—and to assist the batterers, too, because they need help. And I'd like to increase awareness, because with more awareness and education, domestic violence is less likely to happen.

How are Walden students encouraged to make a difference in areas that are important to them? Every week, School of Nursing students have assignments and discussions based on issues in the workplace that are especially important to them. Toward the end of the program, students get the opportunity to directly act upon these issues in their practicum courses, which pair them with an agency for hands-on training. During their practicum, students take action to resolve their workplace concerns through projects that they develop themselves and to improve the agency that they are working with. —Deirdre Schwiesow
 
 For helpful resources on domestic violence, Dr. Sara Torres recommends Family Violence Prevention Fund and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.