Preg­nant woman’s killing high­lights a dark statis­tic

Homi­cide is a lead­ing cause of death for moth­ers-to-be

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY MICHAEL ALI­SON CHAN­DLER michael.chan­dler@wash­post.com

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.

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