© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Heartbeats: a program to protect pregnant people from domestic violence

People who are pregnant are at higher risk for intimate partner violence and suicide according to Reed Bohn who heads Project Empower at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Research that was done between 1999 and 2005 analyzed 309 pregnancy-associated deaths that occurred in Virginia. The top causes were homicide, suicide or accidental overdose. Homicide accounted for 13% of all the deaths in that sample, which was larger than any single natural cause of death.”

It may be that a partner doesn’t want the baby or is jealous of the extra attention lavished on the pregnant person. Carol Olson is an assistant director with VCU’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program.

“We had one recently, he didn’t want her to carry the child to term and he killed her. We’ve had patients come in with injuries directly to their abdomen. We’ve had a patient come in where she had been stabbed and the baby died. I can’t get into the mind of an abuser about why they would want to hurt a pregnant woman, but the statistics are there.”

That’s why VCU, with a $1.5 million grant from the federal government, launched a program to connect at-risk people with the services they need – emergency shelter, counseling, employment opportunities and community support.

In its first eight months, the program – called Heartbeats -- served 66 patients, more than 70% of them Black.

“People who are more in poverty can have struggle with access to health care, being heard and listened to in the medical setting, screened appropriately and being referred,” Olson explains.

Most of the program’s patients come through VCU’s medical center and live in the Richmond area, but Olson hopes to expand the program to rural communities in central Virginia.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief