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Domestic Abuse: A Threat to Pregnant Latinas

For far too many women, what should be a time of great joy and excitement is instead a nightmare. Every year in the United States, an estimated four million women are abused. Many of these women are pregnant. In fact, pregnancy alone is a risk factor for physical abuse; and it is estimated that one in five women will be abused during pregnancy. Women of any ethnicity, race or social class are susceptible. Latinas are no exception.

Two victims
When a pregnant woman is abused, not only is she at risk – so is her baby. In addition to her physical, emotional and/or psychological wounds, domestic violence during pregnancy can cause:
• Abdominal trauma
• Hemorrhaging (including placental separation)
• Uterine rupture
• Miscarriage/stillbirth
• Preterm labor
• Premature rupture of the membranes
• Low birthweight

Women who are physically or emotionally abused during pregnancy may smoke, use drugs, eat poorly or not gain enough weight. These are all risk factors that put babies at greater risk for being born too soon or too small.

Additional Challenges for Latinas in Abusive Relationships:
All women in abusive relationships face challenges to getting the help they need. Domestic violence against Latina women who are pregnant and have few resources hurts deeply. Latinas, particularly those who are recent immigrants, may experience additional problems because of cultural differences, language barriers or immigration status. Here are some problems that you should be aware of:
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  1. Cultural Beliefs: Latinas may believe that family problems - including violence - should be kept quiet and dealt with only by family members. Pressure to “keep the family together” may come from family or church members, even if it means suffering more abuse. For Latinas, her family comes first, so neglecting her own health needs is not unusual. Other religious and societal beliefs may make a woman feel guilty if she leaves her abusive partner or acts against his will.
  2. Alcohol Abuse: Several studies have shown that when a domestic partner abuses alcohol the risk for domestic abuse increases considerably. Alcohol consumption among Latinos is a growing health problem.
  3. Isolation: Abusers typically attempt to isolate their partners from family and friends. Recent immigrants may have no family (other than their abusive partner) or friends living near them. With little support or knowledge from the outside word, Latinas often find it hard to disclose any type of abuse. These factors may also delay early prenatal care.
  4. Threats / Immigration Status: Abusers may threaten to report their partners to the police or to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They may not file papers to legalize their partner’s immigration status.
  5. Control: Abusers may confiscate or destroy important papers such as passports and identification cards. They may prevent their partners from getting jobs, driving, trying to learn English or going to doctor’s appointments.
  6. Children: Abusers may threaten to take children (with or without legal custody) to their country of origin.
  7. Language Barriers: Latinas may be hesitant or unable to seek help from social service agencies, law enforcement or healthcare providers due to limited English ability.
  8. Misconceptions: Latinas, particularly immigrants, may not be familiar with U.S. laws that protect women and children against violence; and these laws may differ considerably from those in other countries. They may also fear involving the police because of their immigration status.

Four Things You Can Do:

  1. Refresh your knowledge about domestic violence. Visit one of our quick links today!
  2. Screen for domestic violence. Perhaps more than at any other time in their lives, during and immediately after pregnancy women are in close, frequent contact with their healthcare providers. Take advantage of this time to screen for domestic violence. Consider using a standard screening instrument. Many are available in Spanish. Keep in mind that your patient may need help from a Spanish speaking interpreter to complete the screen.
  3. Learn about the resources in your community for victims of domestic violence. Do you know which organizations have Spanish speaking counselors?
  4. Have domestic violence materials in Spanish available in your waiting room and exam rooms (for added privacy).
Latinos At-A-Glance

  • 9.3 % of Hispanic mothers reported physical violence before, during and after pregnancy in comparison to 12.2% of African American and 7.2 for whites.
  • Mothers who reported a total household income of less than $16,000 were much more likely to report physical violence than women whose total income was above $16,000.
  • During the period of 2001-2003, a significant higher percentage (17.5 %) of younger mothers (under the age of 20) reported physical violence before, during and after pregnancy in comparison to percentage (5.3%) of older mother participants (ages 25-34).

Source: Fact Sheet: Physical Violence: N.C. Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRMAS), November 2005.

Did you know …
A Mexican law called “Abandono de Hogar” or “abandoning the home” makes it very difficult for Mexican women to leave their abusive partners. Women convicted of “abandoning the home” may lose custody of their children and forfeit any financial assets. Some Mexican immigrants may think similar laws also exist in the U.S.




  1. Opens in new window American Medical Women’s Association Domestic Violence Health Care Provider Education Project
    Online CME activity focusing on domestic violence for medical professionals.
  2. Opens in new window North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    Provides general information, statistics and additional resources nationwide and in North Carolina.
  3. Opens in new window Domestic Violence and Pregnancy: Guidelines for Screening and Referral
    Washington State Department of Health.

Health Resources en Español

  1. Opens in new window North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  2. Opens in new window National Domestic Violence Hotline
    1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  3. Opens in new window Mujer Total
    Learn more about our new Spanish magazine to improve the health of Latino women.

5 Useful Spanish Health Phrases

  1. ¿Le gustaría hablar en privado? (Would you like to talk in private?)
  2. ¿Se siente segura en su casa? (Do you feel safe at home?)
  3. ¿Su pareja la lastima o amenaza? (Does your partner hurt or threatens you?)
  4. Siento lo que le está pasando (I’m sorry for what your are going through)
  5. Por favor llame a la Línea Nacional de Violencia Doméstica al 1-800-799-7233 es gratis y hay servicio en español las 24 horas (Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE [7233]). The service is free, in Spanish and 24 hours a day.

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