Family violence and pregnancy
There is strong research that indicates women are at greater risk of experiencing family violence during pregnancy. Results from the 2012 ABS’ Personal Safety Survey (2013) (LINK) show that:
- 36% of women over the age of 18 have experienced physical or sexual violence by a known perpetrator since the age of 15
- Of those women, 22% experienced physical violence during pregnancy by a current partner, and 25% have experienced violence during pregnancy from a previous partner
- Of those who experienced violence during pregnancy by a previous partner, 25% indicated that the violence first occurred during pregnancy
There are a number of factors associated with family violence during pregnancy, including perpetrator jealousy/control, age (younger women are at a higher risk), and unintended pregnancy. Violence experienced from an intimate partner before pregnancy is the strongest risk factor, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS):
The impact on physical and mental health for a mother and her unborn child can include complications during pregnancy and birth (low birth weight, premature labour and miscarriage, foetal stress and/or trauma) and maternal depression/anxiety/post-natal depression.
Neurobiological research suggests that newborns exposed to domestic and family violence in utero are born with high levels of stress-related hormones (Mercedes, 2015). This can cause long-term effects in brain development and behaviour.
Violence experienced from an intimate partner before pregnancy is the strongest risk factor for predicting domestic and family violence during pregnancy (James et al., 2013). Brownridge and colleagues’ literature review (2011) suggested, for example, that existing verbal or psychological abuse prior to pregnancy was associated with the onset of physical violence during pregnancy. Risk of homicide by an intimate partner has also been found to increase during pregnancy in several studies