Clare Scanlan
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Domestic Violence and Pregnancy

Using your body to abuse you

For most couples, pregnancy is a wonderful time when they become closer to the prospect of becoming parents and embarking on this amazing journey.

According to Refuge, 20 percent of the woman who need to use their services are pregnant or have just given birth. It has been estimated that between four and nine women in every 100 pregnant women are abused during pregnancy or just after they have given birth.

Studies in America have shown that women who are seen in an accident and emergency department when they have been physically abused are more likely to be pregnant than women who have sustained injuries through accidents.

If a relationship is abusive, then the abuse is likely to increase whilst the woman is pregnant, and about a third of domestic violence starts during pregnancy. This is probably because abusers can take advantage of the fact that the woman is more vulnerable, and is more reliant on them for emotional and financial support. It is also possible that the abuser feels threatened by the pregnancy and doesn’t want to lose the attention of their partner who will be more focused on the baby. The woman is also less likely to fight back as she will be worried that the baby could be harmed or that they may miscarry. Stress will also cause problems for the baby’s development and growth.

If a woman is physically abused during pregnancy, there is more likelihood of complications such as miscarriage, premature birth, and high blood pressure. The mother is also likely to suffer from mental health problems, especially depression. Blows to the stomach are likely to cause the baby to be stillborn. There is more risk of problems if the mother is forced to miss antenatal appointments. The other risk with domestic abuse during pregnancy is the increased probability that the mother will be murdered. An American study in 11 cities showed that there was more danger of being murdered by an intimate partner during pregnancy. It has also been shown that there is more chance of death for the mother during or shortly after birth if they have been subject to violence during pregnancy.

Of course, as with other all domestic abuse, the incidences of physical and sexual violence during pregnancy is under-reported and underestimated. Figures show that in the United States 324,000 pregnant women are subjected to domestic violence each year. In the United Kingdom it is estimated that 3.4 percent of pregnant women will be abused during pregnancy.

Pregnancy can also be used as a way to control women. Abusers can prevent women from taking birth control whilst raping them repeatedly. Women who are pregnant and have several children are more dependent on their abuser, and less likely to leave him or report his attacks. Domestic abuse victims are more likely to say that a pregnancy was unwanted and unplanned.

On the other hand, it may be that domestic violence decreases whilst a woman is pregnant as the abuser may want the child, and so women become pregnant repeatedly to avoid physical violence. Another reason for women to want to become pregnant repeatedly is because of forced adoption due to domestic abuse. If a woman has lost her baby to forced adoption, she may feel like the only way to replace the baby that has been taken.

The abuser may not want the baby or they may just want to have control of his partner’s body, and so will force her to have an abortion however much she wants the baby. Research shows that women who go for repeat abortions are more likely to be suffering from violence, sexual abuse, or coercion from their partner.

Pregnancy can see the beginning of domestic abuse in a relationship, it can see its escalation, or it can be used as a way of controlling a woman. In an abusive relationship, a woman’s body can be used by the abuser to hurt her or to control her. Forcing her to become pregnant, or forcing her to abort a pregnancy can have untold effects on a woman’s body and her mind. It is a great opportunity for an abuser to exert her control.

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