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Project Empower

STATEWIDE HOTLINE: 1-800-838-8238
LGBTQ HELPLINE: 1-866-356-6998
(M-F, 8 am - 8 pm)

Project EMPOWER is a multi-disciplinary initiative dedicated to enhancing prevention and intervention services to individuals and their families who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual violence (SV). We provide direct services to our patients and team members as well as training for our healthcare providers. 

What is IPV?

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is defined as a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors that may  include inflicted physical injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, stalking, deprivation, intimidation, and threats. These behaviors are perpetrated by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent, and are aimed at establishing control by one partner over another.  There is HELP.

If you or someone you know is
experiencing IPV please


Physical Violence

Physical abuse is a powerful way that an abusive person gets and keeps their partner under control and it instills an environment of constant fear.  While physical abuse is the form of abuse that is most commonly known, it may or may not be a part of an abusive relationship.  If physical abuse is present early in the relationship, it commonly gets worse over time.  If there is no physical abuse in the relationship, it may begin to occur when the victim is pregnant or when the victim is considering leaving the relationship.

Physical violence may include: hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, strangling, smothering, using or threatening to use weapons, shoving, interrupting your sleep, throwing things, destroying property, hurting or killing pets, and denying medical treatment.

*National Network to End Domestic Violence

Sexual Violence

Some form of sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships but it is often the least discussed.  It can be subtle or overt.  The impact on the victim is commonly feelings of shame and humiliation.

Sexual abuse may include: physically forcing sex, making you feel fearful about saying no to sex, forcing sex with other partners, forcing you to participate in demeaning or degrading sexual acts, violence or name calling during sex, and denying contraception or protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

*National Network to End Domestic Violence

Sexual Violence is defined as any unwanted sexual contact. This contact can range from verbal behavior to forced intercourse. Some examples of sexual violence include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sexual assault (violent contact)
  • Sexual battery (non-violent contact)
  • Molestation
  • Incest
  • Sodomy
  • Rape

A behavior is sexually violent if consent has not been given. Consent is permission that is intelligently and freely given. This means that if someone is being threatened or intimidated, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is underage, that person cannot consent to sexual activity. Sexual violence can occur between strangers or between people that know each other.

In fact, a majority of the time, the perpetrator is a close friend, significant other, or even a family member. Sexual violence does not discriminate. Anyone can be a victim, regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status or education level.

*YWCA of Richmond, VA

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse occurs in some form in all abusive relationships.  It is a very effective tactic used by abusive partners to obtain power and control and it can cause extreme damage to the victim’s self-esteem.  Commonly, emotional abuse makes the victim feel like they are responsible for the abuse and to feel crazy, worthless and hopeless.  It is so damaging that many survivors of domestic violence report that they would have rather “be hit” than endure the ongoing psychic damage of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse can include: constant put downs or criticisms, name calling, “crazy making”, acting superior, minimizing the abuse or blaming you for their behavior, threatening and making you feel fearful, isolating you from family and friends, excessive jealously, accusing you of having affairs, and watching where you go and who you talk to.

*National Network to End Domestic Violence

Financial Abuse

This form of abuse is one of the least commonly known but one of the most powerful tactic of entrapping a victims in the relationship.  It is so powerful that many victims of abuse describe it as the main reason that they stayed in an abusive relationship or went back to one.

Some forms of financial abuse include: giving you an allowance, not letting you have your own money, hiding family assets, running up debt, interfering with your job, and ruining your credit.

*National Network to End Domestic Violence

Patient Services

The patients and team members of VCU Medical Center who experience intimate partner violence have the option to meet with a full time trained advocate who specializes with your concerns.

The advocate is prepared to provide at no cost:

  • Crisis Intervention
  • Community based referrals and resources (ex: how to obtain a protective order)
  • Liaison to law enforcement
  • Safety Planning
  • Court accompaniment
  • Ongoing counseling

Creating a Safety Plan:

If you are in an abusive relationship support is important. Try to seek support from a trusted friend or relative that may be able to help you with certain aspects of your safety plan. This is a safety plan example from the national network to end domestic violence.  If you think you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to make a plan to keep yourself and your children safe.  Think of a safety plan like keeping an emergency kit in your car.

Hopefully you won’t need it but if you do, it could save your life. 

You are not alone and the abuse is not your fault. If you are in an abusive relationship or think that you are, safety and support are criticalHere are some things to consider:

In an abusive relationship:

  • Plan how you could get out of the house quickly if your partner becomes violent. Try to position yourself near a door where you can escape quickly.
  • Put together a suitcase and keep it at a friend or family member’s house. Put in it clothes for you and the children, needed medicines, important papers, car keys, photographs, money, and emergency phone numbers. Add anything else you might need if you have to leave suddenly.
  • Tell neighbors about the abuse and have them call the police if they hear noises coming from your house.
  • Talk to your children about how they can keep themselves safe as well.

If you are thinking about leaving a battering relationship:

  • Identify things that have worked in the past to keep you safe.
  • Think about what has happened in the past and how the abuser has acted.  Identify clues that indicate when things might become violent (i.e. behavioral -- body language, drug/alcohol use, etc. -- and event driven -- paydays, holidays, etc.).
  • Identify what you will do if the violence starts again.  Can you call the police?  Is there a phone in the house?  Can you work out a signal with the children or neighbors to call the police or get help?
  • Explore ways to have dangerous weapons (i.e. guns, hunting knives, etc.) removed from the house.
  • Plan an escape route and practice it.  Know where you can go and who you can call for help.  Keep a list of addresses and phone numbers where you can go in crisis and keep them in a safe place.
  • If possible, open a bank account or hide money to establish or increase independence — Get more financial tips.
  • Gather together the following items and hide them with a trusted individual or somewhere accessible outside the home:
    • Money/cab fare
    • Check book
    • Credit card/ATM card
    • Order of Protection
    • Passport
    • Immigration documents
    • Work permit
    • Public Assistance ID
    • Driver's license and registration
    • Social Security card
    • Your partner's Social Security number
    • Medical records
    • Insurance policies
    • Police records
    • Record of violence
    • Children's school and immunization records
    • Lease
    • Birth certificates
    • Baby's things (diapers, formula, medication)
    • Medications
    • Clothing
    • Eye glasses
    • Family pictures
    • Address book
    • Important telephone numbers
    • Mobile phone/coins to use a pay phone

After leaving:

  • Change the locks on doors and windows (if the abuser has a key or access to a key).
  • Increase the police's ability to find your house by having a large visible street address outside the house.
  • Obtain a P.O. Box and forward all your mail to it.
  • Ensure that utility companies will not give out your information to your abuser (more information about confidentiality for victims of domestic violence).
  • Determine the safest way to communicate with the abuser if they must have contact. If you agree to meet, always do it in a public place (preferably a place with a security guard or police officer), and it's best to bring someone else. Make sure you are not followed home.
  • If your partner follows you in the car, drive to a hospital or fire station and keep honking the horn.
  • Create a safety plan for leaving work. Talk with your supervisor and building security at work and provide a picture of the abuser, if possible. If you have an Order of Protection, give the security guard or receptionist a copy.
  • Teach your children a safety plan, including calling the police or family and friends if they are taken and where to go during an emergency.
  • Talk to your schools and childcare provider about who has permission to pick up the children and develop other special provisions to protect the children.
  • Keep a journal of harassing phone calls and times you may see your abuser around the work place or neighborhood. Save and/or print any threatening emails. Keep a journal of anything that happens between you, the abuser, and the children regarding visitation.

*National Network to End Domestic Violence

Health Care Provider Training

1 in 4 women will experience some form of abuse in her life time

1 out of 3 homicides is directly linked to family or intimate partner violence

Over 50% of female adult homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner

75% of women are either injured or killed while in the process of leaving, or just having left the abusive relationship (this is why safety planning and working with a skilled team is highly important)

But . . survivors feel that providers can help

Survivors report that they are not embarrassed to be asked about abuse and that discussing it would strengthen relationships with health care providers.

Health care providers have a unique opportunity to identify victims and provide critical interventions and referrals: 

  • 44-47% of women killed by their intimate partners have been seen by a health care provider within the year preceding their death
  • Patients who experience IPV access the health care system 2.5x’s more than the average patient

The Project EMPOWER team provides in-depth training and education on intimate partner violence, mandated reporting, as well as screening techniques and the importance of screening patients for intimate partner violence.

If you are interested in a full training or an in-service for your staff please contact Maria Altonen, M.A., 804-628-4603

Local Resources:

Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance
1118 W. Main St., Richmond, VA 23220
(804) 377-0335

Safe Harbor
2006 Bremo Road #201, Richmond, VA 23226
(804) 249-9470

YWCA of Richmond
6 N 5th St, Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 643-6761

Hanover Safe Place
629 N Washington Hwy, Ashland, VA 23005
(804) 752-2702

The James House
2006 Wakefield Ave, Petersburg, VA 23805
(804) 732-1711

Planned Parenthood
201 Hamilton St, Richmond, VA 23221
(804) 355-4358

Richmond Police Headquarters
2219 Chamberlayne Avenue, Richmond, VA 23222
(804) 646-4105

Virginia Anti Violence Project

Side by Side (formerly ROSMY)
2311 Westwood Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 644-4800

National Resources:

National Network to End Domestic Violence

Center for Disease Control

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

Futures Without Violence

For More Information

Maria Altonen, MA


Injury & Violence Prevention Program
Division of Acute Care Surgical Services
Nelson Clinic, 2nd Floor, Suite 204
Richmond, VA 23219


Injury & Violence Prevention Program
Box 980624
Richmond, VA 23298-0624