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Domestic violence hits 1 in 3 women; those pregnant especially vulnerable

Pearl Toh
03 Apr 2018
Professor Lesley Regan

One third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse (DVA), said President of RCOG Professor Lesley Regan at the recent RCOG World Congress 2018 in Singapore.

“Forty-two percent of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner have experienced injuries as a result … [and young women aged] 15–34 years old are more likely to be maimed or die from DVA than from cancer, malaria, road traffic accident, or war combined,” said Regan.

“DVA is a global problem,” she stated.

Overall, DVA affects 37.7 percent of women in South-East Asia. Although the official data suggest that 6 percent of women in Singapore experienced DVA during their lifetime, Regan believed that this figure is likely underestimated.

Any one is at risk of DVA

“DVA has no social class, you’ve got to assume every woman is at risk,” she emphasized.

Vulnerable women are especially at risk, and perpetrators are adept at spotting vulnerability, cautioned Regan. Factors putting women at risk of DVA include young age, low education level, depression, maltreatment, adverse childhood experience, and alcohol or drug abuse. Adverse childhood experience includes maltreatment in the form of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse and household issues such as parental separation and domestic violence—all of which can increase the risk of DVA.

Being highlighted was the toxic trio—DVA, parental substance abuse, and parental mental ill-health—which have been identified as common features of families where harm to women and children has occurred, and are considered as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people.

Pregnant women vulnerable to DVA

Not only does DVA impact physical and mental health, it also affects reproductive health—leading to issues such as low-birth-weight babies, miscarriage, and still birth. “Women who experienced DVA are 16 percent more likely to have low-birth-weight infants,” said Regan.  

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to DVA, which is the most common trauma in pregnancy after road traffic accident, noted Regan. “Thirty-five percent of all DVA starts or escalates during pregnancy … [and] teenagers are particularly at risk.”

As survivors of domestic violence often need health services, healthcare professionals are well placed to identify and support women who have experienced DVA. Regan highlighted five ways (acronym LIVES) that healthcare professionals can provide support: Listen closely, Inquire about their needs and concerns, Validate their experience by showing that one believes and understands their pleas, Enhance their safety, and Support them to connect with additional services.

Concluding the talk with a quote, Regan said, “I asked: ‘Why doesn't somebody do something?’ Then I realized I was [that] somebody.”

“My message to you is that every one of us can do something ... [to] help reduce DVA.”

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