Prevalence of emotional, physical and sexual abuse among pregnant women in six European countries

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Objectives: The primary objective was to investigate the prevalence of a history of abuse among women attending routine antenatal care in six northern European countries. Second, we explored current suffering from reported abuse.

Design: A prospective cohort study.

Setting: Routine antenatal care in Belgium, Iceland, Denmark, Estonia, Norway, and Sweden between March 2008 and August 2010.

Population: A total of 7174 pregnant women.

Methods: A questionnaire including a validated instrument measuring emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Main outcome measure: Proportion of women reporting emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Severe current suffering defined as a Visual Analogue Scale score of ≥6.

Results: An overall lifetime prevalence of any abuse was reported by 34.8% of the pregnant women. The ranges across the six countries of lifetime prevalence were 9.7-30.8% for physical abuse, 16.2-27.7% for emotional abuse, and 8.3-21.1% for sexual abuse. Few women reported current sexual abuse, 0.4% compared with 2.2% current physical abuse and 2.7% current emotional abuse. Current severe suffering was reported by 6.8% of the women who reported physical abuse, 9.8% of those who reported sexual abuse and 13.5% for emotional abuse.

Conclusion: A high proportion of pregnant women attending routine antenatal care report a history of abuse. About one in ten of them experiences severe current suffering from the reported abuse. In particular, these women might benefit from being identified in the antenatal care setting and being offered specialized care.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica