Op Ed by Joia Crear-Perry, MD

Due to high profile media stories currently in circulation, violence against women is in the spotlight. The tragic reality is each year as many as 324,000 pregnant women are victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) according to the CDC. This type of violence not only impacts the lives of women, but also can cause miscarriage or injury to the unborn child. The Birthing Project for 26 years has been a resource center for improving birth outcomes for women of color.

Despite the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) recommendation that all pregnant women are screened for violence, most are not. Those who are asked about asked about IPV may not disclose due to fear of retaliation, lack of trust, embarrassment, economic dependence, lack of trust of medical providers, desire to keep the family together and lack of a support system. IPV is not just physical abuse, it is also emotional, psychological, sexual, threats of psychological and sexual abuse and financial abuse as well.

Health care provideers may not screen due to lack of training, cultural competency, discomfort with the topic, unsure of next steps, feeling powerless about how to change the problemof IPV, time constraints, or fear of offending the patient or partner.

If IPV has escalated or threats to kill have been made to a pregnant woman, ACOG recommends the woman develop a Safety Plan. Included in the plan, which can be found on the ACOG website.

  1. Pack a bag in advance with cash and cards, extra clothes, and leave at a friends house
  2. Have birth certificates, bank information, insurance cards, important numbers etc. assessable
  3. Hide extra sets of keys to house and cars
  4. Establish a code word with family and friends that will advise them she has left the relationship
  5. Identify a safe place to go

Unfortunately, even the Safety Plan requires the woman to have access to resources that many poor women do not have. And the infrastructure of mental health services, legal services, advocates, shelters and community based resources is fragile and not connected to the health care system where 96% of women receive prenatal care.

October 8th is Health Cares about Domestic Violence Day, which was designed by Futures Without Violence to help improve the health care system’s responses to violence. You can access the Futures Without Violence toolkit here.

The Birthing Project is joining them and continuing to work to ensure that we have healthy babies, healthy moms and end violence against women. We encourage other organizations involved with the health, wellness, and financial stability of women to partner with Birthing Project to this end.