Study finds more than 3000 new mothers abused in N.C. each year

March 26, 2001

Chapel Hill - Each year, more than 3 percent of new mothers in North Carolina, which means more than 3,000 women, are being physically abused, mostly by their husbands or boyfriends, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

Comparable figures could result from similar research in most or all other states, domestic violence experts say, but other state-specific data is not available yet.

The study, conducted at the UNC School of Public Health, also found that although most women mistreated after having babies were injured, only about a quarter of them received treatment for those injuries.

"Despite this high burden of suffering among women abused after infant delivery, virtually all of the abused women still bring their new babies to see clinicians for well-baby care the same as non-abused women do," said Dr. Sandra Martin, associate professor of maternal and child health and principal investigator.

"Therefore, we recommend that clinicians, including those who see new mothers and infants should ask women about violence in their lives and then refer women suffering such abuse to appropriate violence-related services."

A report on the research appears in Wednesday's (March 28) issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Besides Martin, authors are biostatistics graduate student Linda Mackie; Dr. Lawrence L. Kupper, professor of biostatistics; and Dr. Kathryn E. Moracco, research assistant professor of health behavior and health education. Dr. Paul A. Buescher of the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics in Raleigh also participated.

"We have no reason to believe that North Carolina is unique in this regard," Martin said. "Domestic violence very widespread in this country."

The team conducted the investigation because while numerous studies have examined violence before and during pregnancy, no large-scale investigations have examined what happened after women delivered. Mail and telephone survey data on a representative sample of more than 3,000 women who had recently given birth was gathered through the N.C. Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. Seventy-five percent of women invited to participate agreed.

"We were fortunate to be able to look at their physical abuse experiences 12 months before they got pregnant, nine months while they were pregnant and then more than three months after they had their babies," Martin said. "We asked them whether they had been hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise hurt during each of those time periods. What we found was that about 7 percent said they had been abused the year before, 6 percent said they were beaten during pregnancy and a little over 3 percent said that physical abuse happened afterwards."

The team also found early abuse strongly correlated with later mistreatment.

"It seems that abuse in women's lives often is a chronic thing that doesn't go away," she said. Martin said she and her colleagues hope their findings will spur doctors, nurses and other clinicians to ask their female patients routinely about violence at home. Such screening is done too infrequently, she added.

"Often women don't know who to reach out to when they are involved in domestic violence," Martin said. "We encourage them to talk with their clinicians, who can refer them to organizations in their area that might be able to help."
The N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence also can provide the names and numbers of agencies and other groups providing services to battered women. For information, call 919-956-9124. In addition, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-7233.

Note: Martin, who will be out of town March 23-26, can be reached at 919-966-5973, Moracco at 966-0158. School of Public Health Contact: Lisa Katz, 919-966-7467 News Services Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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