Pregnancy A Trigger Point for Violence

Pregnancy and childbirth are identified as trigger points for family violence. McAuley Community Services for Women is at the forefront of assisting pregnant women both in our safe house and through our Engage to Change program.

Each month pregnant women are among those who seek refuge at the McAuley Community Services for Women safe house. In January this year three of the 22 women who were accommodated at the safe house were pregnant. Tragically, nine women across Australia have already died this year as a result of family violence – the most recent victim was a 35-year-old woman who was believed to be 10-weeks pregnant. She died after being bludgeoned in an alleged domestic incident on the Gold Coast in early February.

The risk of violence to pregnant women and their babies is not new to our staff, but it is an issue that is evident in the workplace. Midwives are among those who often witness, or suspect, family violence among their patients. At a recent Engage to Change Workshop, at a busy Melbourne hospital, delivered by McAuley Community Services for Women staff, it became apparent that the midwives need and want the skills to deal with family violence amongst their patients.

Engage to Change is a ground-breaking social enterprise to educate employers and staff about family violence, its impact on business and what can be done to support women experiencing violence. Our organisation is asked to give workshops to a diverse range of organisations, including nurses.

“We were running the Engage to Change program for the midwives so that they could support any staff they felt were suffering family violence. But it quickly became apparent that they needed skills and strategies to deal with family violence amongst patients,” said Karen Dynon, Engage to Change Business Development Manager (pictured).

Ms Dynon said the midwives were often aware that ‘something was not right’ among couples, sometimes recognising the abuse at various stages in the woman’s pregnancy, but were unsure how and when to get involved.

This view was echoed by Dr Kathleen Baird, a former midwife and now senior lecturer at Queensland's Griffith University. In 2013, Dr Baird surveyed more than 150 Australian midwives and found "they weren't getting training or education this area and didn't feel confident about asking the question”. This in spite of the fact that Australian Department of Health's clinical guidelines for antenatal care recommend midwives ask all women about their exposure to domestic violence at their first antenatal visit.

Chief Executive Officer of McAuley Community Services for Women Jocelyn Bignold said pregnancy was often a trigger for many men who became violent towards their partner. She said many women who suffered abuse from their partners were reluctant to leave during pregnancy because they were financially vulnerable, or because they feared what their partner might do. She said it was one of the reasons the Engage to Change program was developed.

“Our experience with the midwives and with other workplaces is that people, once they recognise family violence, can be part of the solution at an early stage. But they often need skills and information and that is what Engage to Change offers,” she said. 

The Engage to Change program offers face-to-face interactive training sessions and an e-learning package assisting employers and their employees to:
• Recognise family violence and how it presents at work
• Respond effectively
• Know where and how to refer women for help.

Ms Bignold said more and more organisations were using the Engage to Change program because they realised the affect of family violence on the workplace and our program teaches people how to have those sensitive conversations. The program will be rolled out to staff at several Victorian Local Government Authorities, and has generated interest from large health providers and corporate Australia.
For more information on Engage to Change and booking details.