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Expectant Mothers' Real Risk of Violence
December 22, 2004
by Richard L. Davis

False history gets made all day, any day, the truth of the new is never on the news.
       —Adrienne Rich

The Washington Post recently published a story, Violence Trails Expectant Mothers, Data Indicate. The story is not only inaccurate, it ignores or makes little mention of the real relevant risk factors that expectant mothers should be aware of. The risk factors are real, relevant and all but ignored in this story.

Because the story attempts to generalize the issue, the reader is lead to believe that a pregnant woman is more likely to be a victim of a homicide than to die of any other injury related cause. This same misinformation seems to be sweeping across the nation and is being accepted as a truth in many communities. It is not the truth.

The Post reporter writes that a 2002 Massachusetts study documents that homicide is the leading cause of maternal death for women, followed by cancer. While the Massachusetts study does documents this may be true for some women in particular, it also documents this is not true for women in general.

Information about the 2002 Massachusetts study is available at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public health website. It is titled Pregnancy-Associated Injury Deaths: Violence, Substance Abuse and Motor Vehicle Collisions 1990-1999.

Given the amount of misinformation in the Post story one must conclude the reporter either did not take the time to read the information in the study or for politically correct reasons she chose to ignore it.

The story causes the reader to think that simply being pregnant presents a real and present danger concerning homicides for women in general. Such is not the case. In fact, the Massachusetts study actually documents that the homicides of pregnant women are actually rare events.

The study documents, the homicides of pregnant women are far rarer for some women than others. The fact that homicides during pregnancy are more prevalent for some women than others and why they are more prevalent for some women should have been the central issue of this story.

However, because of gender feminism, there is almost always an attempt to place any domestic violence event, into a “one-size-fits-all” box. This “on-size-fits-all” strategy fits the gender feminist agenda, however, it minimizes and trivializes the dilemma of those, regardless of age or gender, who need support and assistance the most.

The Massachusetts study documents that for every 100,000 births, 9 women died from injury related causes during pregnancy, childbirth or her first year postpartum. The study documents that a little more than one third of these injury related deaths were caused by intimate partner homicides.

The author of the study writes that the issue is “clearly a major health problem for women,” while at the same time her own data clearly documents it is not a major health problem for white non-Hispanic women.

The story also leads the reader to believe that the homicides of pregnant women span all racial and ethnic groups equally. Such is not the case at all. While it does span all racial and ethnic groups, the study documents there are dramatic differences by race or ethnicity. For the safety of those involved, racial and ethnic differences should be noted, not ignored.

The study documents black non-Hispanic women during this time span were 10 times more likely to be murdered than white non-Hispanic women. The study documents that Hispanic women are 4 times more likely to be murdered than white non-Hispanic women. This is obviously of importance to domestic violence advocates and health care practitioners.

For white non-Hispanic women it was not homicides, but motor vehicle collision that was the leading cause of injury related death. It is difficult is not improbable to believe that a pregnancy, in and of itself, can an important relevant factor for the homicides of women in general if the number of homicides are so dramatically different between black non-Hispanic, Hispanic, and white non-Hispanic women.

Real and Relevant Risk Factors

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study, When Violence Hits Home: How Economics and Neighborhoods Play a Role, documents that couples living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, facing job instability and economic distress are at higher levels of probabilities of violence.

The above NIJ study documents, when comparing African-American and white Americans of similar income levels, the levels of intimate violence are similar in both communities. In fact, all NIJ data documents that the levels of violence and abuse, regardless if it is domestic violence or violence in general, will rise and fall with the rise and fall of the socioeconomic educational levels of the neighborhood and those involved. The problem of domestic violence or violence in general, while relevant, is not equal for all of us.

If out of a 100,000 births there are only a small handful of intimate partner injury related deaths, what this data actually documents is that the relevant factors concerning the homicides of these pregnant women must be something other than the pregnancy itself.

If pregnancy, in and of itself, was a relevant causal factor, then the numbers could not or should not be so small and the numbers could not and should not vary so dramatically concerning the race and ethnicity of the victims.

The study does document that these deaths should teach us some lessons that might enhance the development of a comprehensive strategy to improve women’s health at clinical, institutional and community levels. However, these lessons will not be learned if the newspapers and the electronic media continue to ignore or misrepresent the real and relevant risk factors.

The Washington Post reporter again misreads another relevant causal risk factor when she writes that “young” women may be at more risk than others. Age, in and of itself, is not a relevant risk factor. The data in the Massachusetts study documents that simply being pregnant or simply being young, in and of themselves, are not relevant risk factors concerning injury related deaths.

The majority of domestic violence victims and offenders live in “disadvantaged neighborhoods” [that is a risk factor], there is “financial stress” in the relationship [that is a risk factor], the relationship is volatile [that is a risk factor], their partner has a history of violence in general [that is a risk factor] and their partner has a history of psychological problems or criminal behavior [those are risk factors].

The story also contains a statement from someone that claims that if “the pregnant woman goes away” [is murdered] the problem [for the man] goes away. Data document that one in four domestic violence homicides is actually a homicide/suicide. When the homicide involves both the children and spouse, approximately half of those homicides result in a homicide/suicide. The majority of those who do not commit suicide are arrested, jailed and convicted of murder. The problem does not go away.

The problem will not “go away” for victims or offenders until it is addressed in a rational, reasoned, open, honest and unbiased manner. The problem of domestic violence, in all its different insidious forms, must not be used by any single group as a means to achieve their particular social and political agenda. Only when we begin to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will we begin to minimize the problem of domestic violence.

Richard L. Davis is Vice-President of Family Nonviolence Inc..

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