Women's Aid Federation Northern Ireland

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EMBARGOED – Thursday, 21 October 2004

“If only someone had asked…” Domestic Violence and pregnancy

Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation (Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland) welcomes the government proposal to
include routine enquiries during antenatal care to establish whether women are at risk of domestic violence during their pregnancy. This development is a direct response to the fact that 30% of domestic violence starts or intensifies during pregnancy.

One aim of this initiative is to ensure pregnant women feel comfortable discussing domestic violence. It will also enable them to get appropriate help and support. Women who have used Women’s Aid’s services greeted the prospect of greater domestic violence awareness positively. Many felt that their own experiences would have been different if someone had asked them about domestic violence during their pregnancy. One woman summed up their feelings by saying: “If only someone had asked.”

Here in Northern Ireland, Women’s Aid is already working with the Royal Jubilee Maternity Service to heighten awareness of domestic violence and to develop policy, procedures and training for staff. The Royal Jubilee hospital refers many women in need of help to local Women’s Aid services where they are offered information, advice and accommodation.

Tragically for some women, pregnancy can be the beginning of a traumatic time in their lives when they experience domestic violence for the first time or when violence escalates. Shockingly, research shows that violence during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of stillbirths, premature labour and haemorrhaging. It may also result in low birth weight babies and injuries to the foetus.

Although a Northern Ireland wide domestic violence strategy is eagerly awaited it remains unclear how this routine enquiry will be funded and fully implemented locally. In the interim, Women’s Aid continues to support healthcare professionals across Northern Ireland in their work to address domestic violence.

Hilary Sidwell, Director of Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation said: “By asking women about domestic violence during pregnancy, midwives are opening channels for women to get help and support where previously they may have felt isolated or unable to discuss the issue. The introduction of a routine enquiry means that women will be able get information and find out about the services they need if they are affected by domestic violence. “

Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland offers support to women in Northern Ireland who are living with domestic violence and abuse.  Help is available by calling the Women’s Aid 24 Hour Helpline (0800 917 1414), or through any Women’s Aid group in Northern Ireland (contact details in the phone book or via the Helpline).   



Since 1996 48 people have been killed in Northern Ireland in domestic murders. 

16,926 domestic violence incidents were recorded in 2003/04, over half of which involved violence.  This is an increase of 1,414 (9.1%) on that reported in the previous year. 

There have been over 90,000 calls to the Women’s Aid 24 hour helpline since it was established in 1995. 

Last year, over 2,000 women and children were accommodated in Women’s Aid refuges throughout Northern Ireland. 

 The British Crime Survey indicates that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. It cuts across class, age, religion and ethnic group. It is most commonly perpetrated by men against women.  

The impact of domestic violence on women can be serious health problems both mental and physical, due to repeated threatened and actual emotional, sexual and physical abuse.   

At its most serious domestic violence results in hospitalisation and death. 

The Women’s Aid 24 hour Helpline number is 028 9033 1818. Women can call the helpline for assistance and support.  For women who do not speak English, the helpline now uses Language Line, a UK wide professional interpreting service in over 100 languages.

 Information on the effects of domestic violence on pregnant women can be found in Why Mothers Die: Report on confidential enquiries into maternal deaths in the United Kingdom produced by Department of Health and Social Services; Domestic Violence: a health care issue? published by the British medical Association