Abuse: A Threat to Pregnant Latinas
For far too many women, what should be a time of great joy and excitement
is instead a nightmare. Every year in the United States, an estimated four
million women are abused. Many of these women are pregnant. In fact, pregnancy
alone is a risk factor for physical abuse; and it is estimated that one
in five women will be abused during pregnancy. Women of any ethnicity,
race or social class are susceptible. Latinas are no exception.
When a pregnant woman is abused, not only is she at risk – so is
her baby. In addition to her physical, emotional and/or psychological wounds,
domestic violence during pregnancy can cause:
• Abdominal trauma
• Hemorrhaging (including placental separation)
• Uterine rupture
• Preterm labor
• Premature rupture of the membranes
• Low birthweight
Women who are physically or emotionally abused during pregnancy may smoke,
use drugs, eat poorly or not gain enough weight. These are all risk
factors that put babies at greater risk for being born too soon or too small.
Challenges for Latinas in Abusive Relationships:
All women in abusive relationships face challenges to getting the help
they need. Domestic violence against Latina women who are pregnant and
have few resources hurts deeply. Latinas, particularly those who are
recent immigrants, may experience additional problems because of cultural
differences, language barriers or immigration status. Here are some problems
that you should be aware of:
- Cultural Beliefs: Latinas may believe that family problems - including violence - should
be kept quiet and dealt with only by family members. Pressure to “keep
the family together” may come from family or church members,
even if it means suffering more abuse. For Latinas, her family comes
first, so neglecting her own health needs is not unusual. Other religious
and societal beliefs may make a woman feel guilty if she leaves her
abusive partner or acts against his will.
- Alcohol Abuse: Several studies have shown that when a domestic partner
abuses alcohol the risk for domestic abuse increases considerably. Alcohol
consumption among Latinos is a growing health problem.
- Isolation: Abusers typically attempt to isolate their partners from
family and friends. Recent immigrants may have no family (other than
their abusive partner) or friends living near them. With little support
or knowledge from the outside word, Latinas often find it hard to disclose
any type of abuse. These factors may also delay early prenatal care.
- Threats / Immigration Status: Abusers may threaten to report their
partners to the police or to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
They may not file papers to legalize their partner’s immigration
- Control: Abusers may confiscate or destroy important papers such
as passports and identification cards. They may prevent their partners
from getting jobs, driving, trying to learn English or going to doctor’s
- Children: Abusers may threaten to take children (with or without
legal custody) to their country of origin.
- Language Barriers: Latinas may be hesitant or unable to seek help
from social service agencies, law enforcement or healthcare providers
due to limited English ability.
- Misconceptions: Latinas, particularly immigrants,
may not be familiar with U.S. laws that protect women and children against
these laws may differ considerably from those in other countries. They
may also fear involving the police because of their immigration status.
Things You Can Do:
- Refresh your knowledge about domestic violence. Visit one of our
quick links today!
- Screen for domestic violence. Perhaps more than
at any other time in their lives, during and immediately after pregnancy
women are in close,
frequent contact with their healthcare providers. Take advantage of this
time to screen for domestic violence. Consider using a standard screening
instrument. Many are available in Spanish. Keep in mind that your patient
may need help from a Spanish speaking interpreter to complete the screen.
- Learn about the resources in your community for victims of
domestic violence. Do you know which organizations have Spanish speaking
- Have domestic violence materials in Spanish available in
room and exam rooms (for added privacy).
- 9.3 % of Hispanic mothers reported physical
violence before, during and after pregnancy in comparison to 12.2%
of African American and 7.2 for whites.
- Mothers who reported a total household income of less
than $16,000 were much
more likely to report physical violence than women whose total income was above
- During the period of 2001-2003, a significant
higher percentage (17.5 %) of younger mothers (under the age of 20)
reported physical violence before, during and after pregnancy in comparison
to percentage (5.3%) of older mother participants (ages 25-34).
Source: Fact Sheet: Physical Violence: N.C. Pregnancy
Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRMAS), November 2005.
Did you know …
A Mexican law called “Abandono de Hogar” or “abandoning
the home” makes it very difficult for Mexican women to leave their
abusive partners. Women convicted of “abandoning the home” may
lose custody of their children and forfeit any financial assets. Some
Mexican immigrants may think similar laws also exist in the U.S.
Useful Spanish Health Phrases
- ¿Le gustaría hablar en privado? (Would
you like to talk in private?)
- ¿Se siente segura en su casa? (Do you feel safe at home?)
- ¿Su pareja la lastima o amenaza? (Does your partner hurt
or threatens you?)
- Siento lo que le está pasando (I’m sorry for what your
are going through)
- Por favor llame a la Línea Nacional de Violencia Doméstica
al 1-800-799-7233 es gratis y hay servicio en español las 24
horas (Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE
). The service is free, in Spanish and 24 hours a day.