In Her Shoes: Students step into the lives of domestic violence victims

By Christine Aebischer
Correspondent

Sophomore history major and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) peer educator Amanda Mastronardi slowly and unsteadily rolls down the hall in her newly appointed wheelchair, balancing a baby on her lap, a white garbage bag of her belongings tied to one chair handle, as she tries to find her way back home. After the grueling journey, she’s convinced to forgive and forget — ill-advised guidance that soon sends her back to where she started, adding another Band-Aid to her rapidly-growing collection. Luckily for Mastronardi, she is not handicapped, she has no children and her Band-Aids are not covering actual injuries. These are all props she gathered while going from station to station in a new simulation to be used in the nursing school. But for victims of domestic violence, these props are their reality. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence has developed the simulation “In Her Shoes: Living with Domestic Violence” to help participants understand the ups and downs that victims of domestic violence experience.The simulation will be used in a senior-level nursing class, Caring in Community Health, but members of Anti-Violence Initiatives (AVI) and CAPS demonstrated the simulation on Thursday, Feb. 27.

“Victims often go unseen, because they’re admitted for other things, like depression or broken bones,” said Norma Brown, a clinical laboratory education coordinator at the College. “As health care professionals, we need to be sensitized to pick up on the underlying cause.”

“It really is community health,” said Ann Fallon, a clinician educator at the College. “The learning takes place in the mistakes you make.”

The simulation consists of eight simulated role plays based on the real-life experiences of domestic abuse victims. Students will work in pairs, one assuming the role of the victim and the other the shadow, following the path of their assigned victim around the 17 stations of the simulation. At each station, the student picks up the color-coded card corresponding to the victim whose identity they are assuming to see what will happen next.

Some cards simply tell students where to go next, while others give them a choice in how they would like to proceed.

“We would really like them to get into character to understand how victims of domestic violence get themselves in a circular relationship they can’t get out of,” Brown said. “It’s then easier as a health care provider to break that cycle.”

Mastronardi, who assumed the role of Denise, a 45-year-old mother of six who was confined to a wheelchair, found herself stuck in one such circular relationship. She bounced back and forth between trying to seek refuge from her abusive husband and forgiving him, which led to more abuse, and ultimately, her death. “I felt very limited,” Mastronardi said.

Nursing students can now better understand what domestic violence victims go through with the new simulation. (Courtney Wirths/ Photo Editor)
Nursing students can now better understand what domestic violence victims go through with the new simulation. (Courtney Wirths/ Photo Editor)

“I’m not used to not getting better,” Brown said. “You can’t get better, you can’t get out of it and you can’t fix it. I hope that students get angry from this, so that when they encounter patients’ anger, they can step back and have perspective.”

Nursing professor and interim chair Susan Mitchell said the simulation will give nursing students “a deeper understanding of the lived-experience of domestic violence.”

“It’s one thing to discuss these issues in the classroom where you can talk about interventions and statistics and even case studies, but something very profound happens when you are so closely involved and ‘living’ real-life situations,” Mitchell said.

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