A pregnant Maryland teacher who was found in a shallow grave in Damascus — and whose longtime boyfriend was charged with her death — has shone new light on a grim statistic: Homicide is one of the top causes of death for pregnant women.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among injury-related deaths, only car accidents were a more common cause of death for pregnant women.
Research shows that women are not necessarily more likely to experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner during pregnancy; most pregnant women who experience violence have been abused before. But violence against pregnant women is more likely to be frequent and severe in nature.
“We know pregnancy is a time of risk,” said Lisa James, director of health for Futures Without Violence, a domestic violence prevention organization. She said violence can have critical consequences for the woman and for the pregnancy and can lead to preterm labor, low birth weight and other complications.
Pregnancy is one of the most vulnerable times of a woman’s life, physically and emotionally. It brings a host of economic pressures and practical stresses.
The prospect of a new child, particularly if the pregnancy is unwanted, also represents a loss of control for many, said Denise Bolds, a doula and domestic violence survivor who said she had a miscarriage as a result of abuse.
“That loss of control can be frightening and can spark a reaction of rage or resentment or anger,” she said.
Homicide is the fifth-leading cause of death for women ages 18 to 44, according to a report released in July by the CDC. Just over 3,500 women and girls in the United States were killed in 2015.
More than half of the women who were killed died at the hands of intimate partners, usually current or former boyfriends or husbands. And 15 percent of those women were pregnant.
Just a few days after Laura Wallen, the 31-year-old pregnant high school teacher who was reported missing this month, disappeared, another pregnant woman in suburban Maryland was doused in gasoline and set on fire by her boyfriend, according to charging documents released Wednesday. The woman survived. The attack forced her to deliver the baby seven weeks early.
Given the prevalence of violence against pregnant women, advocates say women should be routinely screened for abuse during prenatal and postpartum medical visits.
Men, too, who are expecting a child and feeling stressed also need a place to turn for help, Bolds said. “No one is talking about this at the barber shop or at the bar,” she said.
“Too often there is no support until calamity hits,” she said.