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Open Access Research article

Prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the Norwegian mother and child cohort study

Marie Flem Sørbø1*, Hilde Grimstad1, Johan Håkon Bjørngaard12, Berit Schei3 and Mirjam Lukasse4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and General Practice, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, (NTNU), Postbox 8905, Trondheim, N-7491, Norway

2 St. Olav’s Hospital Trondheim, Forensic Department and Research Centre, Brøset, Norway

3 Department of Gynecology, St. Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Postbox 3250, Trondheim, Sluppen N-7006, Norway

4 Department of Health, Nutrition and Management, Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Postboks 4 Alnabru, St. Olavs plass, Oslo, N-0130, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:186  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-186

Published: 2 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Abuse of women occurs in every society of the world. Increased information about the prevalence in industrialized countries, like Norway, is required to make strategies to prevent abuse. Our aim was to investigate the prevalence of self-reported sexual, physical and emotional abuse in a large obstetric population in Norway, and the associations between exposure to adult abuse, socio-demographics and other characteristics.

Methods

Our study is based on the Norwegian Mother and Child (MoBa) Cohort study, conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The current study included 65,393 women who responded to two extensive postal questionnaires during pregnancy. Any adult abuse is defined as being exposed to one or more types of adult abuse, any child abuse is defined as being exposed to one or more types of child abuse, and any lifetime abuse is defined as being exposed to abuse either as a child and/or as an adult. Perpetrators were categorized as known or stranger.

Results

Overall, 32% of the women reported any lifetime abuse, 20% reported any adult abuse, 19% reported any child abuse and 6% reported abuse both as adults and as children. Emotional abuse was the most frequently reported type of abuse both as adults (16%) and children (14%). Adult sexual abuse was reported by 5% and child sexual abuse by 7%. Physical abuse was reported by 6% as adults and by 6% as children. Approximately 30% of those reporting adult or child abuse reported exposure to two or three types of abuse. Five percent of the women reported exposure to any abuse during the last 12 months. For all types of abuse, a known perpetrator was more commonly reported. Logistic regression showed that being exposed to child abuse, smoking and drinking alcohol in the first trimester of pregnancy, living alone, and belonging to the eldest age group were significantly associated with being exposed to any adult abuse.

Conclusion

The reported prevalence of any lifetime abuse was substantial in our low-risk pregnant population. Antenatal care is an opportunity for clinicians to ask about experiences of abuse and identify those at risk.

Keywords:
Emotional abuse; Sexual abuse; Physical abuse; Prevalence; The Norwegian mother and child cohort study