What a strange world we live in, when a leading cause of death for a pregnant woman is murder.
But it's the truth. We have all heard of Laci Peterson and the case of Lori Hacking but what many don't know is that car accidents or sudden major complications aside, a women is more likely to die from a homicide in her pregnancy than any other reason.
Pregnancy is touted as a happy time of great anticipation and excitement. And it is for most. But that's not always the case. In many cases, the pregnancy is unplanned (by both or only one of the individuals), unwanted or causes already rocky relationships to grow even more unsteady.
Pregnant women are at their most vulnerable. Feeling tired, anxious and overwhelmed, they may find they are unable to defend themselves in ways they ordinarily could. And women, facing dozens of happy friends and relatives, baby showers and gifts, don't want to 'ruin' things by admitting all is not well at home. They may also (wrongly) feel they are somehow to blame, or will be blamed by others. Shame and embarrassment play a huge part in their silence.
“According to a 2001 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 20 percent of Maryland women who died during pregnancy were murdered. This supported the findings of previous studies in Cook County, Ill., and New York.
Experts and women's advocates are not surprised to find that pregnant women are especially prone to violent deaths. In many cases, pregnant women are killed by their husbands or significant others.
"Most pregnant women are killed by people they know, like husbands or boyfriends," said Pat Brown, a criminal profiler and CEO of the Sexual Homicide Exchange.
"With husbands or boyfriends, the women tend to be eight months pregnant — they're there and the baby is coming," Brown continued. "They can see the woman and unborn child as something that is in the way, keeps them from living the lifestyle they want."
Jealous of the Unborn
While pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time, it can aggravate an already troubled relationship undermined by either extramarital affairs or a long history of abuse.
"Her body begins to change," said Sheryl Cates, executive director of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "There are also hormone changes that a woman experiences. … Emotionally, she may cry a lot, which may be irritating and frustrating. If you already have a volatile situation, add those factors [and] you have an escalation of violence. Often, that leads to death."
Sometimes pregnancy can make husbands or boyfriends feel ignored, prompting them to seek gratification elsewhere. Soon, the pregnant wife and unborn child become obstacles, not sources of happiness, and that can lead to premeditated murder.
"There can be an affair going on, where the husband or boyfriend are getting a lack of sexual gratification and they venture out, fall in love and feel like they have to get rid of the wife," said Tod Burke, associate professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia and a former Maryland police officer. "But, there really is no typical motive in cases like these. It really is situational."
The Need for Control … or Escape
Despite the various motives, experts say all these killings have a common denominator: a need for control. Pregnancy can make domineering husbands and boyfriends feel like they are no longer powerful and in control, especially in abusive relationships. Murder is the ultimate demonstration of control.
"What we find with men who are violent toward their intimate partner is that he feels that he's lost control or possession over her or her body," said Cates. "He feels that he is not getting the attention that he deserves. He often feels … that he's lost his place to the baby."
The recent story of pregnant soldier Megan Touma also serves as a reminder that even the strongest and bravest of women are vulnerable. The father of the unborn baby has since been arrested for the murders. You can read more on the Megan Touma story by clicking here http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/07/30/nc.soldier.dead/index.html
While anyone can understand a man feeling a little lost or left out during a pregnancy, there can never be an excuse for hurting a woman. And that he knows he is also taking the life of his unborn child makes the act even more monstrous.
Did you or someone you know ever face violence or threatening behavior while pregnant? How did you (or she) cope? Do you have advice for other women?
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