TESSA program addresses interpersonal violence

By Sally Crocker

Tessa 2019




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Every year, more than 10 million men and women in the U.S. become victims of interpersonal violence.

Interpersonal violence can involve intimidation, physical or sexual assault, emotional abuse, threats or other violent behavior toward another person.

Nearly 20 people per minute across the U.S. are physically abused by an intimate partner.

On a typical day, more than 21,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide, and intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

For women, the statistics are even more alarming.

Across the United States, 85% of domestic violence victims are female, and in Texas, 38% of all women across the state have experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetimes.

Interpersonal violence is a significant problem in society, affecting not just a person’s physical and emotional safety but also long-term health.

It has been linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior, as well as a 50-70% higher likelihood of future chronic health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, gynecological issues, gastrointestinal disorders, behavioral health illnesses and stress-related conditions.

TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) is a program led by public health researchers at UNT Health Science Center. Initially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health, it is now supported by the State of Texas Office of Governor Criminal Justice Division.

TESSA is designed to give a voice to victims of interpersonal violence and help these individuals feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to.

TESSA began as one of five projects nationwide connected to the Interpersonal Violence Provider Network.

TESSA’s collaborates with health providers, community resources, agencies and advocate services in the North Texas area to help screen for, identify and address the needs of interpersonal violence victims.

Statistics show that women who talk to their medical provider about abuse are four times more likely to use an intervention and are 2.6 times more likely to leave an abusive relationship. And since healthcare utilization for interpersonal violence victims is 92% higher than for other patients, TESSA has developed a system for reaching victims at a key point in time, through health providers – especially in emergency, obstetrics/gynecology and primary care settings – via an electronic screening and risk assessment.

Individuals complete their self-reported screening in the provider’s office via iPad technology. The goal is to identify the needs of these individuals early on through health and emergency visits, to connect them to programs and services that may positively impact their long-term physical and mental health.

Health advocacy is an important component of TESSA’s holistic approach, placing the individual’s values and sense of autonomy at the center of intervention through blended motivational interviewing and solution-focused techniques that help victims identify the impact of trauma on their body as they direct their own steps to a healthier life.

The TESSA project was piloted with nine clinics, including UNT Health Family Medicine clinics, the UNT Health Pediatric Mobile Unit, JPS Community Medicine and JPS Health Network homeless-oriented clinics and street outreach program, and two North Texas Community Health Center clinics.

Additional partners include One Safe Place, Safe Haven, the Women’s Center of Tarrant County and MedStar Mobile Healthcare.

Health advocates trained in trauma-informed care, safety planning, health coaching, health navigation, stress management and motivational interviewing are located at One Safe Place, Safe Haven and the Tarrant County Women’s Center.

The TESSA investigator team includes: Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer (Principal Investigator), Dr. Scott Walters, Dr. Erika Thompson and Dr. Kim Fulda.

For more information on TESSA, contact: