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The Making of Medicine

Troubling Findings About Intimate-Partner Violence

Women with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to experience intimate-partner violence in the year before and during pregnancy compared with their non-disabled peers, a troubling new study finds.

The study, from UVA nurse scientist Jeanne Alhusen, also found that women with one or more disabilities -- either physical or cognitive -- are much less likely to use birth control and much more likely to become pregnant unintentionally.

The findings are based on responses from nearly 44,000 women from 24 states who gave birth between 2018 and 2020.

Alhusen, an associate professor in our School of Nursing, and her co-authors are urging additional efforts to address intimate-partner violence for women with disabilities. The researchers say that the existing screening questions recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists don’t go far enough for women with disabilities.

They suggest more specific questions such as, “Has your partner prevented you from using a wheelchair, cane, respirator or other device? Has your partner refused to help you with an important personal need, such as taking your medicine, getting to the bathroom, getting out of bed, bathing, getting dressed or getting food or drink, or threatened not to help you with these personal needs?”

The consequences of unaddressed intimate-partner violence are very real. Alhusen notes that women who experience violence during pregnancy are more likely to be depressed, experience post-traumatic stress disorder and to attempt or commit suicide.

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