Previous studies have shown that around one in five pregnant women are subject to violence in the home. Even so, our knowledge about such violence and the support and help requested by those involved is extremely scanty.

Research student Kristin Håland at the Sahlgrenska Academy describes in her thesis deep interviews with seven Norwegian women who have been subjected to violence from their partner while pregnant, and ten Norwegian men who have perpetrated violence on their pregnant partners.

The study has shown that the violence occupies a large part of the women’s lives, leading to many difficult decisions and much ambivalence.

“Their own mothers, for example, are often the most important support for these women, including those who may have demonstrated unsatisfactory care earlier in life,” says Kristin Håland.

The interviews also show that both women and men find it difficult to talk about their situation, since they feel insufficient and are filled with shame.

“The women do not want to be seen as victims, since they experience this as making them passive and unable to act in their attempts to change their situation,” says Kristin Håland.

The men who have been interviewed state that they want to avoid repeating the violent behavior of their fathers, and they want to learn to be good fathers. They lack, however, role models to follow. The men in the interviews do not want to be seen only as violent, but as someone who also has good sides and positive aspects.

While the women often considered themselves to be sufficiently mature to start a family, despite the violence, several of the men were shocked by the fact of the pregnancy.

“My studies show, however, that the child can be a motivating factor for the men, when it comes to seeking help for their tendency to violence. Several men express a clear desire to change for the better once the baby has been born,” says Kristin Håland.

The aim of interviewing men who have themselves perpetrated violence against their partner has been to identify the help that they consider necessary in order to change behavior. Kristin Håland has shown that many men request help in becoming a better father.

A project was carried out in Norway about 8 years ago in which midwives asked all pregnant women about their experiences, if any, of intimate partner violence. As a result of this, the Norwegian Directorate of Health is drawing up new guidelines for maternal healthcare, which state that all pregnant women are to be asked about intimate partner violence.

A conclusion of Kristin Håland’s work is that it would be possible to use this model also in Sweden, where the maternal healthcare system should improve in recognising pregnant women who have been subject to intimate partner violence.

“This would contribute to strengthening the child’s health and quality of life. More research is, however, needed in order to develop methods relating to the most suitable way of posing the question,” says Kristin Håland.

The thesis Violence against women in the childbearing period. Women’s and men’s experiences was successfully defended at a disputation on May 2.

VOICES FROM THE INTERVIEWS

“You do everything you can to protect your child, while at the same time trying to satisfy your partner, just hoping that everything will work out in the end. And this is very trying, since you end up benefiting one at the cost of the other…”
Woman, 25 years

“I end up nearly hysterical, and I just can’t cope. I can take up a fetal position on the floor, just lying there and hoping to disappear. I’m totally paralysed for a long time.”
Woman, 28 years

“So you don’t know anything about it, and suddenly you’re just sitting there and your girlfriend’s pregnant, right? And then your whole life, it’s sort of ended, isn’t it? And now I have to stay with her for the rest of my life.”
Man, 26 years

“I think the fathers should be present at the birth, because then they’ll realise that they have to sort themselves out and start taking responsibility!”
Man, 28 years

Illustration: Lene Aabjørnsrød

Contact:
Kristin Håland, research student at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
Tel: +47 9185 0952.
kristin.haland@hotmail.com