The rise in domestic abuse cases against pregnant women: What can victims do to protect themselves and their unborn child?

Pregnancies can be a joyous occasion, with both prospective parents doing everything to ensure that their developing baby is born into a loving family, have a good upbringing and grow into a well-adjusted adult. However, the Domestic Abuse Report 2022 and annual audits paint a very different and concerning picture. Here, Ruth Hetherington looks at the stark reality of domestic abuse against pregnant women.


The stark reality of domestic abuse against pregnant women

It is reported that 20-30% of pregnant women report incidents of physical violence, 14% reporting severe or life-threatening violence. Around 36% of women experience verbal abuse during pregnancy and the statistics also reveal that 20% of pregnant women report sexual violence.


These reports are shocking and give stark clarity to the extent of domestic abuse in pregnancy, which shows no regard by abusers as to their partner but more importantly the baby. There is a distinct lack of understanding of domestic abuse generally, but particularly the impact and effect on an unborn child cannot be dismissed or ignored.

The key findings of the Audit Report Year 2020-2021 show that most women accessing domestic abuse support services have children, and 7.3% of women seeking support services are pregnant women in refugees.

The physical risks to pregnant women are significant, with injuries reported to be sustained to the head, neck, broken bones, and punches to the stomach. Much of this information would be repugnant to many, but it can form a pattern of coercive control behaviours, which can escalate when pregnant. It creates a dependency and a sense of hopelessness, which means women are left in a vulnerable state, with nowhere to turn, particularly if they lack the strength to be able to leave.

The impact on the child

Babies that grow up within an environment where domestic abuse is a factor will be negatively impacted. It must be a scary environment for any child to witness and grow up in such circumstances, but babies are just as affected as any other child, given their vulnerability in lack of mobility or verbal comprehension.

Children do and can develop maladaptive coping strategies which can put themselves at risk as they feel a responsibility for their parent who is suffering from such abuse. This feeling of responsibility is often heightened when their mother is pregnant. Children can be supported by domestic abuse services, however, these services are limited, depending on the area where you live.


The unfortunate reality of abuse and what victims can do to protect themselves and their children

Unfortunately, women who are unable to break free from their abuser can often be blamed by professionals with allegations of failing to protect their unborn child, which can lead to the possibility of having their child removed at birth.

This does not seem fair or just.  It takes incredible strength to leave an abusive relationship, especially when there is a developed dependency and pregnancy. Feelings of being trapped, being alone and nowhere to turn to are common.

There needs to be a real focus on situations of this nature to help vulnerable women but more so children, who can suffer in in such circumstances by getting hurt physically and suffering psychologically and emotionally.  If you or anyone close to you are suffering any form of domestic abuse the Government have produced a helpful guide which provides useful telephone numbers.

McAlister Family Law helps, advises and supports those suffering any form of abuse, whether that be physical abuse or coercive control, and our specialist Children team can guide you through ways in which to protect yourself and your children.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning divorce or family law, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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