Pregnant women in Barbados are increasingly being abused by their partners, who set out to inflict as much injury as possible to both mother and unborn child, according to a recent survey.
The European Union-funded study on domestic violence in the Caribbean, carried out in Barbados and Grenada between April and July last year among 109 participants, found alarming evidence that violence against women increased after they became pregnant.
Because the research was quantitative, it did not determine what percentage of expectant mothers faced abuse.
However, there were sufficient cases to conclude that the problem was serious, the study found.
“We found evidence that in some cases domestic violence increased during pregnancy and only in one case did it lessen. Several women reported that violence was directed at their abdomen or genital area to inflict damage, not only on the woman, but also on the child she was carrying,” said the researchers, who interacted with 49 women and 60 men.
In the 154-page report, the research team said the causes behind domestic violence in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean were “complex and deeply entrenched in cultural and behavioural norms”.
Therefore, they said, many of the women abused during pregnancy had been victims of domestic violence even before they became pregnant.
The study noted that once domestic violence existed in a relationship, the general finding was that it did not cease during pregnancy, which in some cases appeared to have been the catalyst for an escalation of violence.
“This posed high risks to maternal outcomes and to the unborn child, including premature birth, miscarriage, serious injury, abnormalities and death,” the report stated.
Therefore, the researchers recommended that health professionals should be trained and equipped with the tools to effectively identify signs of abuse and to know what action to take to prevent harm to women and their unborn babies.
“Pregnant women should be routinely screened for domestic violence during antenatal and other health checks. Screening should occur at the first prenatal visit, at least once per trimester and at the postpartum check-up,” it was also recommended.
Equally troubling was the finding that women with disabilities were victims of both physical and sexual abuse by their partners.
The study found that many disabled women had diminished self esteem, compounded by reduced opportunities for earning an independent income, economic and physical dependency related to their care needs and emotional dependency that had grown out of long-term abuse.
In fact, women whose disability limited their mobility were virtually raped in many instances, the survey revealed.
“Although women from all groups reported accounts of sexual violence, negative attitudes to their impairment left women with disabilities with a reduced sense of self and their partners with an increased sense that sex was theirs for the taking. Where physical mobility was an issue, this made it easier for the perpetrator to use his physical strength to overpower the women physically and force them into non-consensual sex,” the report said.
On this score, it recommended that domestic violence policies must pay specific attention to the needs of women who may be especially vulnerable or marginalized, such as women with disabilities.
The study was conducted by the None In Three project, a 2016-2018 EU project that got its name from the fact that one in three women in the Caribbean experience gender-based violence in their lifetime.
The researchers spoke to women who had experienced domestic violence during pregnancy, women with disabilities, women living with HIV and women in same-sex relationships, as well as men and youth who had been convicted of offences related to domestic violence and those who had not.
“There is a high degree of intentionality that lies behind much abuse. Domestic violence is rarely a one-off incident of aggression which happens as a consequence of loss of control and for the women in this study was more likely to reflect a continuum of violence and abuse.
“From the evidence provided by women, perpetrators often plan how best to inflict harm; they make choices that suggest the acts of coercion, control and violence they inflict are intended and targeted. Where violence was regarded as being a consequence of the loss of control, this was primarily because of the influence of drugs or alcohol,” the report stated.