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The Devastating Scale of Pregnancy Loss Linked to Domestic Abuse

An exclusive investigation exposes the scale of miscarriage linked to men’s violence against women – but the concerning findings are the tip of the iceberg

Photo: Lolostock/Alamy

The Devastating Scale of Pregnancy Loss Linked to Domestic Abuse

An exclusive investigation exposes the scale of miscarriage linked to men’s violence against women – but the concerning findings are the tip of the iceberg

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At least 223 women experienced pregnancy loss linked to domestic abuse in England and Wales between 2017 and 2021, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The figure is likely to be “the tip of the iceberg”, with the majority of police forces not recording whether a woman has experienced miscarriage in the context of domestic abuse, and many women not reporting this crime due to stigma and the legacy of violent or controlling behaviour. 

A 2019 survey of 40 domestic abuse victims and survivors in Scotland found that the vast majority (90%) had experienced pregnancy loss linked to violence from current or former partners, and all had experienced abuse during their pregnancy. 

The Byline Intelligence Team sent Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales. A total of 16 had recorded pregnancy loss related to domestic abuse, 22 refused the request as the data was not easily retrievable, and three did not respond. 

Ruth Davison, chief executive officer of charity Refuge, told Byline Times: “For women experiencing domestic abuse, pregnancy is an incredibly dangerous time. Domestic abuse is rooted in power and control. Refuge knows that perpetrators can escalate their abuse during times of change in the family dynamic such as pregnancy in an attempt to exert increased control over their partner… this data is likely the tip of the iceberg.”

A second Freedom of Information request found that, across 13 forces in England and Wales, there were a total of 13,964 incidents where a woman reported domestic abuse while pregnant between 2017 and 2021. In Scotland, the number of women who reported domestic abuse while pregnant over the same time period was 7,310. 

“These devastating cases demonstrate that the severity and impact of domestic abuse is still not fully recognised by police forces,” Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, told Byline Times. “Pregnancy can be a trigger for, or can escalate, domestic violence, yet policing as we know it often fails to handle domestic violence cases appropriately and is poorly equipped to deal with the additional trauma of pregnancy loss.”

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The Reality of Abuse

Nicola Murray was six weeks pregnant when she took the decision to leave her abuser. She endured two miscarriages and one forced termination as a result of his violent behaviour. 

“I very calmly asked him to take his things and leave,” she told Byline Times. “He was not happy. He started screaming at me that I didn’t get to say ‘no’ to him, and that he would decide when the relationship was over.”

After he left the house, Nicola went outside to see her daughters, who were playing in the front garden. The next thing she knew, she was being dragged by his car across the road.

“My daughter was trying to pick me up from the road and help me get to the curb,” she recalled. “I kept thinking ‘oh God the baby, the baby’. I was six weeks pregnant. My clothes were shredded, I had cuts and abrasions. If he was going any faster, I would have been killed.”

Nicola was taken to hospital and had her injuries patched up. The doctors reassured her that her baby would likely survive because it was still quite early on and, as the doctor put it, “the baby was quite well padded”. But two days later, she miscarried. 

Her abuser was arrested and charged. Nicola and her daughters were expected in court to testify against him, however their solicitors informed the family he had taken a plea deal. What Nicola did not realise was that his plea related to the crime of “reckless and culpable conduct”. 

As a result, the courts demanded he pay her £300 compensation.

“I didn’t want the money,” Nicola told Byline Times. “As soon as the money came in, I would give it to charity. For me, it was blood money. It was an insult.”

‘If Not Now, When?’

It was while taking part in the Freedom Programme – an initiative supporting victims and survivors of men’s violence against women and girls – that Nicola realised she was not alone in experiencing pregnancy loss as a result of domestic abuse. This inspired her to start her own support group – Brodie’s Trust

“I was talking to this other woman and it was like ‘oh! We are not the only ones’,” Nicola told Byline Times. “There wasn’t a lot of specialist support out there and I felt, well, if not me, who? And if not now, when?” 

“These women are also the victims of wider system failures,” said Reid. “Our mental health and trauma support services are virtually non-existent after years of government funding cuts and demand vastly outstripping supply. These are services that police should be liaising with to ensure women experiencing pregnancy loss as a result of domestic abuse have the best support and care possible.”

For its members, Brodie’s Trust stops the silence around miscarriage and domestic abuse. “It’s vital for women who have had something like this happen to them to be able to speak it and say it out loud,” Nicola said. “To acknowledge that it happened to them and not carry it as a shameful secret.”

Ruth Davison said that “pregnancy loss due to domestic abuse is one of the many hidden impacts of domestic abuse” and “it has a devastating long-term impact on the survivor who may feel guilt, blame and shame upon losing their baby”. She added: “Refuge’s message for survivors is clear: you are not alone, abuse is not your fault and Refuge is here for you.”

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A Change to the Law?

Nicola is now campaigning for new legislation in Scotland that would protect the right to safe and legal abortion while criminalising men who use violence to end a pregnancy. 

The wording of the proposed law states that “contributing or attempting to contribute violence, abusive behaviour, deception, and/or coercion in ending a partner’s or ex-partner’s pregnancy. And by acknowledging the pregnancy of the victim as a factor aggravating the claim of domestic abuse”. 

Child destruction is a recognised offence in England and Wales, but it is challenging to convict – not least because of the country’s complex abortion laws. 

Abortion is governed by criminal law in Britain, as opposed to being treated as a healthcare issue, meaning that charging an abusive man with the destruction of a foetus risks compromising the right of a woman who chooses to end an unwanted pregnancy. 

In 2015, Dusan Bako was sentenced to four years and eight months in a young offenders’ institute after admitting grievous bodily harm against his 16-year-old partner who was seven months pregnant. She lost her baby, however a charge of child destruction was dropped.

But the scale of this issue suggests that something needs to change to ensure women who experience forced miscarriage have some kind of legal redress. Decriminalising abortion, while recognising forced miscarriage as a crime, is one solution: in 2018, Labour’s Diana Johnson proposed a bill that would do just this. 

“We urge the police to reduce barriers to reporting for women experiencing domestic abuse,” Davison said. “Police forces must ensure they are collecting informed data around this issue and recording it properly to address this horrific crime.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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