Disclosure and health-seeking behaviour following intimate partner violence before and during pregnancy in Flanders, Belgium: a survey surveillance study

Kristien Roelens, Hans Verstraelen, Kathia Van Egmond, Marleen Temmerman
European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology 2008, 137 (1): 37-42

OBJECTIVES: The objectives were to estimate the prevalence of physical and sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) among a regional sample of the general obstetric population as the lifetime prevalence, as the 1-year period prevalence before pregnancy, and as the prevalence during the index pregnancy; to assess the rates of disclosure and help-seeking behaviour with IPV; and to determine the acceptability of screening for IPV.

STUDY DESIGN: A multi-centred survey surveillance study was carried out among pregnant women attending five large hospitals in the province of East Flanders, Belgium as a regional probability sample of the general obstetric population. Data were collected through an anonymous, written questionnaire that included the Abuse Assessment Screen and additional questions on the circumstances of the most recent episode of physical or sexual violence, on disclosure and help-seeking behaviour, on reporting assault to the police, and on the acceptability of routine screening for IPV.

RESULTS: The sampling frame consisted of 1362 women who received the questionnaire at the antenatal service during a 2-month study period, of which 537 (mean age 29.4 years, S.D. 4.09) returned the envelope (response rate 39.4%). The lifetime prevalence of IPV was estimated to be 10.1% (95% CI 7.7-13.0%) and the period prevalence of IPV during pregnancy and/or in the year preceding pregnancy 3.4% (95% CI 2.1-5.4%). There was a significant difference in the reported lifetime prevalence of IPV between women attending with a partner and those who came to the prenatal visit unattended by their partner in particular (6.8% versus 13.9%, p=0.010). Overall, only 19.2% (23 out of 120) and as few as 6.6% (4 out of 61) of the victims of physical and sexual abuse respectively sought medical care by consulting a general practitioner, gynaecologist, or an emergency department. Routine screening for IPV by a general practitioner or gynaecologist was found to be largely acceptable.

CONCLUSIONS: In our highly medicalised society, women experiencing partner violence rarely disclose abuse to the widely available health care services, unless they are directly asked about it, which appears an acceptable practice. Hence, there is a definite need to improve women's awareness regarding abuse and their help-seeking behaviour at a public health level.

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