Intimate partner violence intervention for pregnant women: effectiveness in improving health and pregnancy outcomes

Intimate partner violence, which includes psychological, physical and sexual abuse, is a serious social and public health issue. The problem is particularly critical in British Columbia, which consistently has one of the highest rates of abuse of women in Canada. A woman’s risk of partner violence increases during pregnancy, and is associated with increased chance of miscarriage, premature labour, and low birth weight, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. Health care providers ask all pregnant women about violence as a routine part of their health history. However, a major barrier for caregivers is their lack of knowledge about what action to take after a woman discloses abuse. Little research has been done to determine what steps can be taken to successfully stop the abuse. Dr. Sarah Desmarais is evaluating the effectiveness of a targeted intervention, delivered in the context of primary care, to reduce violence and improve health. She will follow pregnant women – receiving care in a Lower Mainland hospital – who indicate that they have experienced partner violence. The intervention program will be provided by community health nurses and will consist of a variety of information, referral, and resource services (e.g., providing women with telephone numbers for community agencies and assisting women in contacting a women’s shelter and negotiating admission). Following the initial intervention, Desmarais will track pregnancy complications and newborn health. She will also interview women post partum about their health, their intervention experiences, and the incidence of partner violence. This research will inform the development and delivery of partner violence intervention in primary care settings, with an ultimate goal of reducing partner violence and improving women’s and newborn health.