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Advocacy program gives victims of domestic violence a voice

When a woman walks into the Emergency Department at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, she is asked what is wrong. While her physical symptoms may be obvious, there is sometimes more going on than is visible on the surface.

She may actually be one of the 30 percent of women seen by emergency physicians whose injuries are the result of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month ends, Shelby Linstrom is now charged with helping potential victims and training Medical Center staff to recognize when a patient may be holding back vital information. Linstrom is the new medical advocate from the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg‘s Violence Intervention and Prevention Program at the Medical Center.

According to Rhonda Hendrickson, program director, part of the advocate’s job is to ensure that the staff is aware of red flags and how to help someone who may have experienced abuse.

“We know that staff members have their plates full providing care, so if they have the tools to identify that there may be violence in the home, they can call us in, let us work with them and provide options for the clients,” she said.

The program provides victims with free services including counseling, relocation assistance and a 30-day emergency shelter for individuals fleeing violent situations. The advocate can also accompany victims to the emergency room, interviews with police and court proceedings.

“We also have a 24/7 hotline that anybody can call — even the hospital can call to make sure that we are able to respond to victims within a 30-minute time frame,” Linstrom said. “There are so many different things that we offer to help women through this time while they’re healing.”

Linstrom will also spearhead awareness of the program and its services among the Penn State community while recruiting new members to its newly-revitalized task force made up of staff members passionate about this type of work.

In addition to training, the members of the task force provide crisis services for anyone who has been affected by domestic violence or sexual assault. They offer recommendations for referrals and create screening protocols as well.

“We are hoping to have that trickle-down effect from the task force,” Linstrom said.

Ideally, a representative in each department will receive training and share the information with others who they work with. Linstrom hopes to regenerate enough interest to be asked to educate and train the entire department.

In addition to staff, Linstrom will also work closely with victims.

“My role is to make sure that I am there to walk alongside them — not to do the work for them — just let them know that they are capable of rising above their pain and healing,” she said. “While there may be similarities in every single journey, each person experiences their own trauma differently.”

Linstrom found herself drawn to this line of work while completing her master’s degree in mental health counseling.

“For two years, I worked out of Lancaster with trauma survivors — sexual abuse and things like that — and I really found a passion for working with those women,” she said. “I also enjoy training other people on those topics, as well, because I really like to see the increase in awareness.”

Linstrom will train Penn State Hershey staff members on a range of topics, including spotting signs of abuse, victim-centered responses and domestic violence in the workplace.

“It’s critical to identify patients who being brought into the Medical Center, whether it’s into the emergency room or into another part of the hospital for care,” Hendrickson said. “Often times, that medical setting may be the first time that victim has had the opportunity to have an intervention.”

Linstrom will let people in need know that the services are available and that they don’t have to return to an unsafe environment.

For information on the services available, visit

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