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Safety Planning for Pregnant Domestic Violence Victims

Safety plans must be made in collaboration with the pregnant person exposed to domestic violence.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

Safety plans must be made in collaboration with the pregnant person; disempowering someone at this point could lead to disengagement with the support process altogether.

Sensitively introducing a safety plan reminds the pregnant person that you are not judging her; that you understand the complex circumstances she finds herself in; that you recognise her own agency; and that you will respect the choices she makes:

You can’t stop your partner’s abuse – only he/she can do that. However, there are some things you can do to plan for your own and your children’s safety, either inside the relationship or if you leave. You are probably already doing some things to protect yourself and your unborn/baby/children; here are some things you can do …
A comprehensive safety plan, informed by the Women’s Aid Survivors’ Handbook, emphasises several areas.
  • Plan for how you might respond in different situations, including crisis situations.
  • Consider reaching out to a neighbour you trust, and where you could go in an emergency. Let them know what is going on and ask them to call the police if they hear sounds of a violent attack.
  • Keep with you any important and emergency telephone numbers (for example, local refuge or DVA support agency/24-hour hotline; the police domestic violence unit; your GP; your children’s school; your legal advisor; local taxi/cab number).
  • Teach your children to call 999 in an emergency, and what they would need to say (for example, their full name, address and telephone number).
  • Rehearse an escape plan, so in an emergency you and the children can get away safely.
  • Pack an emergency bag for yourself and your children, and hide it somewhere safe (for example, at a neighbour’s or friend’s house). Try to avoid mutual friends or family.
  • Try to keep some money with you at all times and a phone with a charged battery.
  • If you suspect that your partner is about to attack you, try to go to a lower risk area of the house – for example where there is a way out and access to a telephone. Avoid the kitchen or garage where there are likely to be knives or other weapons, and avoid rooms where you might be trapped.
  • Be prepared to leave the house in an emergency.

The Women’s Aid (UK) Survivors’ Handbook is a helpful resource for people affected by DVA and it contains additional information on preparing to leave, what to pack, what to do after leaving, and what to do if returning.

It contains a section addressing the experiences common to women from black and minority ethnic communities. These factors include increased isolation, honour-based abuse, abuse by the extended family, and fears about reporting the abuse. These factors undermine help-seeking and narrow safety planning options. The added complexity and associated barriers in the lives of people from minorities need to be taken into account by health professionals providing care for DVA.

Past experiences of racism towards women shown by health providers and other institutions also compounds reluctance to trust professionals and/or reduces the effectiveness of a safety plan. In essence, the safety plan needs to be tailored to the pregnant person’s personal and socio-cultural circumstances.

There are audio versions of the handbook available and it is accessible in languages other than English. It addresses challenges that may be particular to migrant people such as those seeking asylum – for example, how to achieve trust and assure confidentiality with an interpreter that shares cultural identity.

In ‘Facilitating support’ , we will consider the value of specialist organisations led and run by members of black and minority ethnic communities as a crucial option for women from minority or migrant communities who are seeking refuge from DVA. While legal, policy and practical options will vary from country to country and from one healthcare setting to another, the LIVES principles (WHO, 2014) are universal; they will guide a healthcare provider’s response, irrespective of the setting in which they work or the background of their client/service user.

It is also important to provide reassurances on maintaining the confidentiality of health records, within the scope of safeguarding procedures and the hospital/clinic policy. Also, discuss with the pregnant individual how they will explain their absence today (if applicable) and how they will keep any paperwork taken home from being viewed by others.

References

Women’s Aid Federation of England. (2009). The survivor’s handbook (print and audio versions). Web link

World Health Organization. (2014). Health care for women subjected to intimate partner violence or sexual violence: A clinical handbook. Web link

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Identifying and Responding to Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) in Pregnancy

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