A place of safety for pregnant women suffering abuse

Ahead of a conference today, Thursday February 27, at Cork University Maternity Hospital, The hospital’s Domestic Violence Committee tells us about their work
A place of safety for pregnant women suffering abuse

"Power and control is the essence of domestic violence and when a woman is pregnant, her partner can feel like he is losing some of that control which can lead to difficulties in the relationship."

PREGNANCY should be an exciting and special time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many women if they are experiencing domestic violence in their relationship.

Domestic violence is where one person uses abuse to control and assert power over their partner in an intimate relationship. It can be physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or financial abuse.

According to the recent Femicide Watch Report, published by Women’s Aid Ireland, 230 women have died violently between 1996 and 2019. 16 children have died alongside their mothers.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Pregnancy is considered to be a critical period during which domestic violence can begin or escalate due to a woman’s increased physical and mental vulnerability.

Power and control is the essence of domestic violence and when a woman is pregnant, her partner can feel like he is losing some of that control which can lead to difficulties in the relationship. Estimates of the prevalence of domestic violence during pregnancy vary, however it is thought that up to 30% of intimate violence first begins during this time.

In the Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) it is the role of the Domestic Violence Committee to ensure all staff know how to recognise and respond to domestic violence.

Antenatal care provides a unique opportunity to identify women who are experiencing abuse. Therefore CUMH screen all women for domestic abuse in the antenatal period.

Research tells us that domestic violence impacts all corners of society and is not confined to any socio-economic group or class. This is reflected in the women we meet in CUMH. These women often come to us having experienced physical and sexual assaults, emotional abuse and controlling behaviours in their relationships. It is our job as healthcare professionals to ensure that these women are protected and that CUMH is a place of safety for them, their children and unborn babies.

The Domestic Violence Committee has been up and running in CUMH for the past number of years providing training, information, awareness and creating strong links with services in the community.

In Cork, we are extremely lucky to have access to a range of support services in the community both locally and nationally who offer a much needed life line to survivors of domestic violence. However, it is also important to note that due to high demands, services are extremely stretched. In a survey of homeless women in Cork in 2011 carried out by Good Sheppard Services and Cork Simon Community, 25% of women first became homeless because of domestic violence. This figure rose to 37% for women aged 27-44. National statistics also tell us that in 2018, there were over 3000 occasions where services were unable to accommodate women and their children because the refuge was full or there was no refuge in their area.

CUMH is a place of safety for pregnant women who are experiencing abuse.

The CUMH Domestic Violence Committee also welcomed Ireland’s first conviction recently for the crime of coercive control under the Domestic Violence Act 2018. Coercive control occurs when a current or ex-partner knowingly and persistently engages in behaviour that is controlling or intimidating. The victim can fear that violence could be used against them, or may be suffering distress that has an impact on their day-to-day activities. In the maternity setting coercive control can manifest itself in missed appointments, isolating the woman from her family and friends, gas-lighting and making the woman feel like she is ‘walking on egg shells’. CUMH have been trying to highlight to patients what coercive control is so that they can identify it in their relationship. This is done by putting up posters in public areas and having information stands such as the one set up for the 16 days of action international awareness campaign which the hospital get involved in every year. During this campaign in December 2019, CUMH staff wore a white ribbon as a mark of awareness and solidarity with survivors of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Committee convenes regularly to tackle the complex issue of domestic violence in pregnancy and has established strong links with local service providers and University College Cork.

In collaboration with UCC, Thursday, February 27 the committee are running a multi-disciplinary conference in the hospital which will host national and international experts in the field of domestic violence including the CEO of Women’s Aid Ireland, Sarah Benson. The conference will offer an opportunity for learning and collaboration in our goal of responding to the needs of the women and infants who are experiencing domestic violence.

If you have been impacted by any issues raised in this article, please contact any of the following services:

OSS (One Stop Shop) Cork – 1800 497497

Sexual Violence Centre Cork – 1800 496 496

Mna Feasa – 021 4211757

West Cork Women Against Violence – 1800 203 136

Y.A.N.A. (North Cork) – 022 53915

Women’s Aid – 1800 34 1900

MOVE – (Men Overcoming Violence) - 086 6044047

Anyman (Formerly AMEN) - 01-5394277.

See tomorrow’s WoW! for more.

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