Medical Volunteers Heal the Physical Scars of Domestic Violence
Tuesday, May 10, 2005 2:30 PM

"One time I was fired from my factory job because the boss told me I was too hard for people to look at. So one day I was watching one of those plastic surgery shows and I went to my domestic-violence counselor to find out if anything could be done for me and my whole life changed because of the Face to Face program. Those doctors, they are angels." 
-Delean Burkett

In 1994, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery formed a partnership to provide free facial reconstructive surgery to victims of domestic violence. By 2002, volunteer surgeons through Face to Face: Domestic Violence Project had performed reconstructive surgery on over 1250 women. There are currently over 400 surgeons in forty-four states participating in Face to Face. Face to Face is affiliated with Face to Face International, a humanitarian program providing free facial reconstructive surgery to correct deformities due to birth defects and trauma.

Cosmetic surgery-based makeover television shows have contributed to a recent increase in demand for cosmetic surgery. The television exposure has also led to more survivors of domestic violence seeking information about reconstructive surgery. The facial reconstructive surgeries needed to correct severe damage from domestic violence are very complicated surgeries and are prohibitively expensive for many survivors. As cosmetic surgery becomes more profitable, more and more surgeons are looking for ways to give back to the community.

"Young doctors are getting more involved in Face to Face," said Dr. William Silver, an initiator of the Face to Face program, "We have gotten so lucky in the past few years with the increase in acceptance of cosmetic surgery and it's time to give back. This program is the golden opportunity to feel good about your self. "

In 1999, modeled after the Face to Face model, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry joined the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in creating the “Give Back a Smile” program. Give Back a Smile’s mission is to raise awareness of domestic violence, provide the dental profession the opportunity to give back to the community, and to give survivors hope for a better tomorrow. Through this program more than 850 dentists, lab technicians, and other dental professionals have volunteered their time and expertise. 248 victims of domestic abuse have received reconstructive dental surgery and 177 more are currently being treated throughout the United States through Give Back a Smile.

In order for survivors to participate in either the Face to Face program or Give Back a Smile the survivor must access the program through a domestic violence shelter or advocate. The survivor must have left the abusive relationship and/or engaged in meaningful counseling to address the emotional scars of the abuse. Face to Face and Give Back a Smile work with domestic violence service providers to offer counseling and support to help victims break out of the cycle of abuse, enhance their self-esteem and begin to rebuild their lives.

"These women need to heal the emotional scars," said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "When they're ready, we help them heal the physical scars. Most of these women look years older due to the abuse. Some of these women have lived 20 years in a violent home and it's done so much to the way they look and feel about themselves."

Compiled From: "About Face: Program Gives Domestic Violence Victims a Fresh Outlook" Donley, Kelli, Forensic Nurse; "Abuse Survivors Given Free Plastic Surgery" Kobrin, Sandy, Womensenews 10 May 2005.