Domestic Violence against Women in Their Childbearing Years: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Domestic violence against women within their childbearing years can lead to serious injury and death of both the mother and infant. Evidence suggests that women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence during pregnancy and the post-natal period. During pregnancy and the post-natal period women are more likely to come into contact with health workers who are uniquely positioned to identify and support women experiencing domestic violence. This paper examines the literature around domestic violence in the childbearing years specifically the prevalence of domestic violence in the childbearing years, the associated factors, the implications JOT both mother and baby and the health professionals' role in addressing domestic violence. Identified within this review is that there is a paucity of literature that explores domestic violence against women throughout the childbearing years, in particular the postnatal period. This is especially so in relation to women's experiential accounts. Examination of the literature also reveals that the issue of domestic violence against childbearing women is poorly addressed by health care profes?

Received 19 April 2006 Accepted 17 January 2007

KEY WORDS

domestic violence; abuse; pregnancy; postpartum; health professionals

INTRODUCTION

Domestic violence is a principal cause of morbidity for women during pregnancy both within Australia and on a global level.There is evidence that domestic violence in pregnancy is a leading cause of death related to homicide (Campbel, Soeken, McFarlane & Parker 1998 in Sagrestano, Carroll, Rodriguez & Nuwayhid 2004; Farella 2002). VicHealth (2004) found that domestic violence is responsible for more ill-health and premature death of women residing in Victoria, Australia, under the age of 45 years than any other health factors. It has also been estimated that 33% of clients accessing an Australian Government support program for homeless people were women escaping domestic violence (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2005). Over half of this clientele were women accompanied by their children (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2005). The risk factors for the mother and fetus who are victims of domestic violence during pregnancy range from emotional distress of the mother to fetal death (Espinosa & Osborne 2002). Domestic violence during pregnancy strongly predicts violence immediately following the birth and may be a long-standing problem in a relationship, or commence in pregnancy with pregnancy being an initiating or escalating factor (Johnson et al. 2003; Huth-Bocks et al. 2002; Radestad et al. 2004; Saunders 2000).

For the purpose of this paper domestic violence will refer to the physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social and economic abuse (see Table 1) towards a person by their spouse or partner (Espinosa and Osborne 2002; Johnson et al. 2003). Meuer, Seymour and Wallace (2000) further define domestic violence as 'a pattern of coercive behavior designed to exert power and control over a person in an intimate relationship through the use of intimidating, threatening, harmful, or harassing behavior' (chapter 9:3). The term 'childbearing years' refers to the period in a woman's life where she is either pregnant or within the first year of the postnatal period.

This literature review aims to discuss the prevalence of domestic violence against childbearing women, identify correlating factors for domestic violence, uncover the health implications for a mother and her infant resulting from domestic violence and address the role of the health care provider in addressing domestic violence against women. The literature search for studies to include within this review was carried out via the following databases from January 1995 to October 2006:

1. CINAHL with fulltext

2. Pre-CINAHL

3. EMBASE

4. Journals at Ovid

5. MEDLINE (via Ovid)

6. …